Sask.'s latest entry into the world of pro hoops and why this one should succeed where others have failed
SaskTel Centre will have the honour of hosting the first game of the first season of the CEBL
If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then the Saskatchewan Rush should either feel complimented or annoyed. Another team will be invading their turf.
Saskatoon's lacrosse team has set the bar for confusing a sporting event with a party — which sort of happens to also be the motto of the CEO of the Canadian Elite Basketball League.
Mike Morreale, who should be no stranger to Saskatchewan Roughrider fans after a 12-year career in the Canadian Football League, has ventured into the world of hoops.
Using a corporate strategy similar to that of the CFL and Major League Soccer, it sounds like this latest pro basketball venture for Saskatchewan will look a lot like Saskatoon's lacrosse success story.
Since re-locating from Edmonton to Saskatoon in 2016, the Rush have filled SaskTel Centre to capacity and actually have people talking about Canada's national game.
So much so, since the Rush moved here, the number of registered minor lacrosse players in Saskatchewan has grown by leaps and bounds.
Leaps and rebounds is what you will see from the Rattlers, Saskatchewan's first pro basketball team in almost two decades.
SaskTel Centre will have the honour of hosting the first game of the first season of the CEBL. The Rattlers will face the Niagra River Lions Thursday before they head off to face the Guelph Nighthawks on Saturday.
By coincidence in the backyard of the Rush? Probably not.
If the atmosphere reminds you of a Rush game, there's good reason.
Lee Genier, who played a large part in the early success of the Rush, is now the Rattler's president.
"I used to get nervous playing but I think I may be more nervous now," said Morreale on the eve of the CEBL's inaugural season.
"It's going to be a situation where the basketball purist is going to say 'man this is good basketball' and the general fan is going to say 'I got my money's worth.'
"We certainly have high expectations and we want to be around for a long, long time. This is not just a fly-by-night; we've learned from things in the past."
Morreale is referring to Saskatchewan's previous failed ventures, the Saskatchewan Storm, the Saskatoon Slam and the Saskatchewan Hawks, teams which didn't deliver entertainment value to basketball fans in the '90s and early 2000s.
"But our motto is much different and the timing is much different. Basketball in this country is completely different over the last 25 years."
Morreale and the CEBL are not only saying the right things but they are doing it as well, forming a partnership with Canada Basketball extending through the junior NBA program.
They are hitching their wagons to the Saskatoon market, describing it as the key to making the whole thing work.
Future broadcast deals and expansion may ride on what happens over the next few months at SaskTel Centre.
Other locations are apparently already lining up to join in. There could be as many as 12 teams in the CEBL within a couple years, provided all goes well in the inaugural season.
This pro basketball outfit will not be trying to lure the fan with a crop of NBA rejects.
Each roster in the six-team league must have at least 70% Canadian content, showcasing athletes from this country who until now have not had the opportunity to play domestically.
"Our position is not to be alongside the NBA, our position is to be one of the best international leagues in the world."
And if the Saskatoon franchise happens to be the flagship of this new league, that's not by accident either.
Morreale is all too familiar with the passion from supporters of the green and white, he has witnessed it at Rush games, he has lived it at Taylor Field and hopes to experience it again at SaskTel Centre Thursday night.
"People from Saskatchewan, they're everywhere, I hope to see these Rattlers' jerseys all across the country."