YORKTON / SASKATOON - As the 2022 CEBL season progressed so too did positive things for the Saskatchewan Rattlers.
For example, fans started to turn out in greater numbers once they saw the Rattlers were playing solid basketball.
“I’m happier with the crowds at the end of the season than I was at the beginning,” said Rattler Vice-president Brad Kraft in a post-season interview with Yorkton This Week.
Kraft said fans came to realize “the product . . . was super entertaining, super high quality.”
It helped of course that the Rattlers put together a great home court record, going 8-2, and finishing fifth overall in the 10-team league with an 11-9 record.
The fifth place finish was a huge step forward for a Rattler team which scuffled through two terrible years in 2020 and 2021.
The Rattlers, after winning the inaugural CEBL championship had struggled mightily going 1-5 in the league’s 2020 bubble, and then again recording only one win but this time in 14 games in 2021.
Thanks to the much-improved record the Rattlers ended up hosting a playoff game where they eliminated the rival Edmonton Stingers 94-91. It was the first playoff game in Saskatoon since 2019.
“We had some great wins (this season), but that playoff game was fantastic,” said Kraft. “It brought that winning culture to Saskatchewan, and people saw it.”
The Rattlers would then come up just short of making the final four, dropping a 108-96 road game to the Scarborough Shooting Stars.
The Stars would end up in the CEBL final losing 90-88 to the new champion Hamilton Honey Badgers.
Along the way in 2022 the Rattlers had a number of highlights including the CEBL Best Team: 3-Point Performance, and Tony Carr being a nominee for league MVP, which ended up going to Niagara’s Khalil Ahmad. Carr was among Rattler team award recipients.
The goal for 2023 is to build off the successes on 2022, said Kraft.
“Continuity is exactly what we’re looking for,” he said. “. . . We’re constantly reviewing our plan to make ourselves better.”
That continuity starts with bringing back a nucleus of players from the 2022 roster.
Kraft said in the short-term they will be connecting with everyone from the team to begin laying a foundation for their return if they are interested.
“It’s finding the right players and then keeping them year after year,” he said.
Helping build interest in 2023 will be the arrival of Calgary as a CEBL city, after the recent announcement Guelph would move west.
“I think it’s going to be great,” said Kraft. “Anything that builds more rivalries in the west is good.
“Calgary is going to be a great market.”
And, can a Winnipeg franchise be far down the road?
“I’m pretty focused on Saskatchewan,” said Kraft when asked about a Manitoba team, but then added he knows expansion is in the league’s plans. “. . . I know Winnipeg’s on the list . . . I know it’s definitely a goal of the league to be there.
“Winnipeg would end up being a great rivalry.”
There is more to creating the future the Rattlers are hoping for than just focusing on the play on the court.
Kraft said the franchise will continue to work on building what they see as essential connections to the community – a community that they want to extend across the province and not just be a Saskatoon team.
“We want to grow our brand outside Saskatoon,” he said, adding that can mean holding basketball clinics in different markets – the team introduced Rattlers co-ed youth basketball clinics throughout Saskatoon, Regina, and area in 2022 -- and in any other fashion they can.
For example, the Rattlers worked on Truth & Reconciliation calls to action, with guidance from Saskatoon Tribal Council and Chief Mark Arcand, and hosted Indigenous Communities throughout our province during the season, and worked alongside Indigenous Leaders on ways to bring professional basketball to their communities and remove any barriers to sport.
“We need to be out and about more to grow the excitement across Saskatchewan,” he said, adding he feels as a league the CEBL “is getting more credibility – is more in the news cycle,” and that is putting more eyes on the Rattlers.
Kraft said it has always been a Rattler focus for fans to have access to players and vice versa.
“We want to community and players being connected in every way we can think of,” he said.