The Canadian Elite Basketball League is going international.
On Monday, the champion Edmonton Stingers face Real Esteli on the latter’s home court in Polideportivo, Nicaragua, to tip off the FIBA Basketball Champions League Americas (BCLA) season.
It’ll mark the first time a CEBL team plays against a non-Canadian opponent and on non-Canadian hardwood.
“This is a major step for us to be part of the Champions League of America because it puts us against the best of the best out of all the leagues in North, Central and South America and Latin America,” CEBL commissioner Mike Morreale told CBC Sports.
After the tilt against Real Esteli, the Stingers return to the court Tuesday against Puerto Rico’s Cangrejeros. Live coverage of both games begins at 8 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.
WATCH | Breaking down significance of BCLA debut:
What is the BCLA?
The FIBA-sanctioned league pits top teams from across the Americas in a tournament similar to FIFA’s or CONCACAF’s Champions League.
“We knew that to really branch out and to take full advantage of the popularity, the trajectory of basketball in this country and to also attract more eyeballs from other interested fan bases overseas was really important,” Morreale said.
In the group stage, 12 teams are split into four divisions, where each squad plays the other three times — once in each competitive window. The Stingers’ next pair of games will take place in Puerto Rico in early February, with the final matches to be played in Calgary in mid-March.
The top two teams from each division following the group stage reach the quarter-finals, which are best-of-three series. The semifinals and final follow in the same format.
The BCLA was founded in 2019 and has crowned two champions — Argentina’s Quimsa in 2020 and Brazil’s Flamengo in 2021. Both qualified for the upcoming season, too.
If you’re a Stingers fan, you might have to lean into the idea that cheering for sports teams is essentially rooting for laundry.
Only two players from the 2021 championship team — Canadians Adika Peter-McNeilly and Jahmal Jones — remain with the team for the first stage of BCLA play. Two-time reigning league MVP Xavier Moon is currently with the G League’s Agua Caliente Clippers, while other players are dispersed overseas, unable to leave their current clubs.
WATCH | Stingers win 2021 CEBL championship:
The CEBL runs a spring-summer schedule to give Canadian players the opportunity to play at home and make some money without giving up overseas professional careers. The short-handed BCLA roster is merely a symptom of that initiative.
“What you’re going to see is a bit of a collection of CEBL players and really good import players that are going to round out a CEBL roster under the Edmonton banner. And we feel that there are some advantages to that, but we also recognize there’s some disadvantages,” Morreale said.
The team is rounded out by players from other CEBL teams such as Ottawa Blackjacks stars Junior Cadougan and Chad Posthumus. Former NBA centre Josh Boone is also joining the team.
Regular Stingers head coach Jermaine Small will be joined on the bench by Blackjacks coach Charles Dubé-Brais and Niagara River Lions coach Victor Raso. Canadian Sacramento Kings assistant Roy Rana is aboard as a special assistant and advisor.
The Cangrejeros roster features ex-NBAers JJ Barea and Michael Beasley, while Real Esteli’s lone former NBAer is six-year veteran Renaldo Balkman.
The BCLA champions advance to the Intercontinental Cup, a four-team tournament also including the NBA G League champions, the European Champions League winner and a host team.
Meanwhile, the March window presents an opportunity for Calgary to promote itself as a possible CEBL expansion city.
“While this competition will be different in style from what CEBL fans are accustomed to, we have received expressions of interest from groups in Calgary about an expansion franchise,” Morreale said.
“It’s a market we are interested in and this event will give us a chance to get to know the people of Calgary better.”
The 2022 CEBL season begins in May.