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Sports This Week: CEBL champs headed to Basketball Champions League Americas

Edmonton Stingers representing new league on international stage
jermaine small 72
The Edmonton Stingers play the Niagara River Lions in the CEBL Championship Final at Edmonton Expo Centre in Edmonton, on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2021. Photo by Ian Kucerak
YORKTON - The Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL), which completed its third season this summer, has announced the 2021 CEBL champion Edmonton Stingers have been assigned to Group A in the upcoming group stages of the Basketball Champions League Americas (BCLA). 

The group will also feature Real Estelí from Nicaragua, and Cangrejeros from Puerto Rico. The teams were pre-assigned to the group due to geographical and logistical reasons. 

Cangrejeros from Puerto Rico, like the Stingers, will be participating in their first season of the BCLA, noted a CEBL release. Their current roster includes notable NBA veterans J.J. Barea and Michael Beasley. Real Estelí plays in the Liga Superior de Baloncesto in Nicaragua. The team made it to the Final 8 of the 2020-21 edition of the BCLA. 

That’s big for the league and the Stingers, says Edmonton head coach Jermaine Small. 

“It’s a huge opportunity for the league,” he said in a recent interview. “It’s a great opportunity to put our league and the Stingers on the map. Only benefits can come from it.” 

Small said with South American teams still playing, and a number of Stingers now playing in other leagues for the fall and winter, Real Estelí and Cangrejeros have some advantages going in. 

“I know they’re cohesive teams,” he said, adding that fans in South America are “very passionate,” so the Stingers will have a lot to overcome, but Small added the franchise is looking forward to the challenge. 

At present Small said he is not sure which Stingers, including two-time championship MVP Xavier Moon and top Canadian Jordan Baker will be able to suit up for the round robin, but Stinger players will have the first chance at spots. 

“And I’m speaking to some guys, CEBL all stars,” he said, adding he is confident they’ll have a solid team. 

“I could fill a roster of 24 tomorrow,” he said, adding when talking to players “the interest level is high” pending other basketball commitments.
The third season of the BCLA will consist of 36 games at the group stages, and eight games at Final 8, detailed a CEBL release. The Final 8 will be played as single-elimination quarterfinals and semi-finals with the winners advancing to the Championship game, with the semi-final losers playing for third place. The clubs will be divided into four groups of three teams with the first and second ranked clubs from each group advancing to the Final 8.

The remaining nine clubs - CR Flamengo, Minas, and São Paulo FC from Brazil, Boca Juniors, Obras Basket, and A.A. Quimsa from Argentina, Club Biguá and Club Nacional from Uruguay, and Basket UdeC from Chile - will be drawn into Groups B, C, and D. 

The 2021-22 BCLA season will tip-off December 10 and run five months, culminating in the Final 8 scheduled in April 2022. 

The Stingers head to the BCLA after becoming the first CEBL team to repeat as champion, taking the crown in 2020 in the league bubble due to COVID-19. 

Then on Aug. 22, they defeated the Niagara River Lions, 101-65, at the 2021 Championship Weekend.  

Repeating as champion in any league is not easy, even in a league in its relative infancy. So how did Small, and the Stingers approach the 2021 season? 

Small said the 2020 season was so different to start with, with less games, “and we never had a home game in the bubble.” 

For some the situation lessened the championship and that left the Stingers wanting to prove they were worthy champs, said Small. 

“We still felt we had something to prove,” he said. 

From there the Stingers built a team around a core of veteran players, with seven players from the first championship back, including Moon and Baker. 

Then the Stingers went out and played their game. 

“We really just focused on us . . . We focused on the process,” he said. 

With the CEBL requiring 75 per cent of players being Canadian, having a strong core of Canucks helped too, with the likes of Baker and Calgary’s Mathieu Kamba, Adika Peter-McNeilly and Jahmal Jones, both out of Ryerson University providing core strength. 

“You’ve got to have really strong Canadian talent,” said Small. 

That is also where the CEBL shines, in the sense it provides an opportunity for a growing base of talented Canadians to aspire to play in a league in their home country, said Small. 

“Guys know there’s an opportunity to play pro,” he said, adding for many it has been a case of going south to play Division I college ball, then off to pro league around the world. “When they have the opportunity to play at home in the summer they’re all for it.”