Someone professional basketball in Winnipeg?
Canadian Elite Basketball League commissioner Mike Morreale said Tuesday he expects his 10-team league to expand to Manitoba’s capital by 2024, adding that he has begun talks with three potential local ownership groups, including 50 Below Sports + Entertainment, Winnipeg owners of the WHL. Ice.
The main hurdle to overcome is finding a mid-sized arena to house the franchise. Currently, a suitable building does not exist, although 50 Below owners Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell have not revealed updated plans for an arena once targeted for a site north of McGillivray Boulevard.
Morreale said a CEBL franchise, playing from the third week of May until mid-August, would be a good complement to any new facility built to house the ice.
“We would prefer a medium sized arena,” Morreale said. “I don’t want to say where the Jets play (Canada Life Centre) wouldn’t be adequate, but then again, it’s a bigger venue. It would have to fit properly. You want to create the privacy and the average size – 5,000 – up to 8,000 seats – are the ones that provide the best fan experience.”
Expansion teams in St. John’s, NL, Scarborough, Ont., and Montreal will begin playing in the CEBL this spring. The Newfoundland Growlers, unable to obtain a suitable lease at the Mile One Centre, will use the Fieldhouse at Memorial University until more permanent housing can be found.
A similar arrangement could be a temporary solution in Winnipeg.
“We’re going to take our time in Winnipeg, but we believe and I believe it’s a great basketball market,” Morreale said. “There is a large Filipino contingent, who love and adore basketball and we think it can work. Honestly, the venue is probably the biggest stumbling block at this particular time, but knowing something is going to take off (eventually) we would be looking in a situation similar to what we did in Newfoundland to get this started.”
Former University of Manitoba goaltender Rashawn Browne, who played the 2020 season with the CEBL Saskatchewan Rattlers before focusing on a consulting career with IG Wealth in Winnipeg, was excited about a team in his hometown.
“I would love to see it,” Browne said. “I think that’s what drives progress when it comes to developing a sport in the city. You can’t look any further than the Toronto Raptors. When the Raptors arrived, there was a culture built around them. but you see in big cities like Toronto, once they have the team and the kids can see what’s possible beyond high school, beyond college, it creates a culture.
“I’m a little biased here – I’d like to see basketball culture grow a bit.”
“I’m a little biased here ‐ I would like to see the culture of basketball grow a bit. –Rashawn Browne
The CEBL emphasizes Canadian content. Only three Americans are allowed on each 14-man roster, with a minimum of six local players, one international player per team and one U Sports player. Another attractive feature for potential franchise owners is an $8,000 per game salary cap for each team.
Eight of the current clubs are owned by co-founder Richard Petko, while Newfoundland and Scarborough have separate owners.
“From this moment on we are looking to find external owners for the new teams – the expansion teams – but also to find them for some of our existing teams,” Morreale said. “We are in mid-term talks with new ownership groups to take over some of our existing teams. And that has always been the concept.”
Recently, the three-year loop has gained traction as a developmental league for NBA talent. Forward Xavier Sneed (Memphis Grizzlies), Niagara’s Javin DeLaurier (Milwaukee Bucks), Guelph’s Cat Barber (Atlanta Hawks) and Edmonton’s Xavier Moon (Los Angeles Clippers) all signed 10-day NBA contracts.
Most recently, Milwaukee Bucks signed Lindell Wigginton to a two-way contract, making the Hamilton goaltender the first player to sign a standard NBA contract after playing in the CEBL. The 6-1 product from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia has averaged 21.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists in 2021.
Browne said the caliber of play in the CEBL is excellent.
“It was kind of like an instant resume,” Browne said. “They kind of have to pick a guy from U Sports for each team. I played pretty well but I had other plans for my life. If you can take advantage of that, it definitely gives you a leg up on where you would have been if you hadn’t played in the league, right? It’s a good stepping stone.