Sask. basketball looks to ride Raptors wave

Saskatchewan's basketball community is hoping to ride the Toronto Raptors' championship wave.

Local basketball community energized by Raptors title

Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry holds the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy during Raptors victory parade celebration in Toronto. (Moe Doiron/Reuters)

Steve Burrows says he never expected to see the Saskatchewan Roughriders take a back seat at Mosaic Stadium.

Thousands of people congregated at the Regina stadium last week to watch the Toronto Raptors compete in Games 5 and 6 of the NBA Finals. Despite the hometown Riders playing their season opener in Hamilton at the same time as Game 6, the Raptors took over the jumbotron, sending the conclusion of the Roughriders game to a smaller screen.

"It's unreal," Burrows,  men's head basketball coach for the University of Regina Cougars, said.

"You get a group of people that never really have any interest in the game of basketball at all and now there are Jurassic Parks across the country and people sit around the next morning talking about what happened last night in the game."

Mosaic Stadium held fans watching the big screen for both the Saskatchewan Roughriders game and Toronto Raptors game - with the Raptors getting the feature treatment. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Burrows said registrations for the Cougars summer basketball camp have risen. He is hoping the newfound enjoyment for the game will linger until November when the Cougars' USport season begins.

"Regina is a basketball community and maybe it's taken something like this for people to actually even notice," he said.

"I think kids are excited about the game of basketball right now. Hopefully they realize there is a place they can come down to and watch and enjoy the game."

Jamal Williams saw the first ever Raptors preseason game in 1995 as an 8-year-old. The Regina product and Cougar alum just finished his ninth pro season. Williams plays alongside his brother Kai on the British Basketball League's Esh Group Eagles in Newcastle, England.

Regina's Jamal Williams is entering his 10th season as a pro basketball player. (Newcastle Eagles)

Williams and his brother are among a handful of local players who have made the professional leagues. He said he hopes to show young players that there is a path to the pros from the Prairies. Williams said the 2018-19 Raptors will serve to inspire the next generation too.

"I think with kids being able to see a team trying to be successful as it's better for basketball, the grassroots and the development," Williams said.

Rattlers look to grab new fans

The timing could not have been better for the Saskatchewan Rattlers of the Canadian Elite Basketball League. The new franchise is hoping to grow its fanbase thanks to the success of the Raptors.

The Rattlers will host the CEBL final four this August. The Saskatoon-based team hosted viewing parties for the Raptors.

"I would love to see those passionate fans come out to as many of our games as possible and really experience the next best basketball in Canada outside of the Raptors," said Brad Kraft, director of business operations for the Rattlers.

"It's great for everybody. It's not just great for us that was a pretty special piece of sports history."

The Saskatchewan Rattlers may reap the rewards of the Raptors rise in popularity. (Saskatchewan Rattlers/Twitter)

The Rattlers are in second place in the six team CEBL with a 6-3 record. Kraft said the team is putting its players out into the community to build relationships with fans.

As for getting on the Raptors wave, Kraft said the Rattlers will be sending requests for players to make their way out west this summer.

"I'm hoping that I can put in a request when the Raptors mailboxes aren't full with thousands of messages and see if we can get them out at the end of August and be a part of our championship weekend."


Adam Hunter


Adam Hunter is the provincial affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for more than 14 years. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: