Windsor

Why coaching an all-men's team has 'shocked' Windsor's Chantal Vallée

The Raptors aren't the only Canadian basketball team you can watch on television — as CBC Sports announced this week it will start live streaming games from the Canadian Elite Basketball League.

She coaches the Hamilton Honey Badgers and the University of Windsor women's basketball team

The coach and general manager of the Hamilton Honey Badgers is Windsor's Chantal Vallée — best known for leading the University of Windsor women's team to multiple national championships. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

The Raptors aren't the only Canadian basketball team you can watch on television — as CBC Sports announced this week it will start live streaming games from the Canadian Elite Basketball League.

It's a new developmental pro league for men where the majority of the players on each team must be Canadian. The first game streamed by CBC Sports happened Wednesday between the Hamilton Honey Badgers and the Niagara River Lions.

The coach and general manager of the Honey Badgers is Windsor's Chantal Vallée — best known for leading the University of Windsor women's team to multiple national championships. This is her first year taking on this extra role in Hamilton.

"Every time we can promote the basketball game on the national scene, it's a win for everybody," said Vallée on CBC's partnership with the league.

"I thought that was just fantastic that any Canadian can tune in and watch our games."

Vallée became so well-known that fans of opposing teams brought cutouts of her to university basketball games. (@IanMacAlpine/Twitter)

Vallée became the first woman in basketball history to hold the titles of both head coach and general manager for a professional men's team when she joined the Honey Badgers administration in November 2018.

One of her biggest concerns, she said, surrounded her role as general manager —specifically, how she would immerse herself in a market where basketball players in the area have no idea who she is.

"I have to contact agents of players that are in the NBA and I have to explain to them that this is a new league, this is a new team, I am a new coach."

"That was my concern. But honestly, they have responded super well," she recalled.

CBC Sports is live streaming the remaining games of the Canadian Elite Basketball League’s inaugural season along with championship weekend Aug. 22-25 in Saskatoon. (CBC Sports)

She adds her approach to coaching between the University of Windsor women's squad and the all-male Hamilton Honey Badgers does not differ — a far cry from her original expectations.

"I expected the guys to be less talkative, more straight-forward, less sensitive to be honest with you," she said.

But according to Vallée, that hasn't been the case at all because "an athlete's an athlete." She's found a shared "human spirit" between the men and women she coaches, whether that be fears of failing, needing to be pushed the extra mile and confidence levels rising and falling.

I've had people coming specifically to see me and to bring either their sons or daughters to meet me.- Hamilton Honey Badgers head coach and general manager Chantal Vallée on how fans of other teams have reacted to her coaching an all-men's team

"When it comes to managing people, managing egos, managing playing time, making sure you're building a team, I am shocked — and that's not an exaggeration — to see that I only find similarities. There is not one thing that I find different," she said.

"I actually enjoy it very much and laugh about it because I did expect it to be different — and really, it isn't."

When asked by Windsor Morning host Tony Doucette on Thursday if coaching an all-men's team as a woman has been challenging, Vallée said players and fans — not just of the Honey Badgers, but of other teams as well — have been more than complimentary.

"When we beat teams, they shake my hands, congratulate me. There's been no issues with opposing coaches or fans," she said.

"To be honest, I've had people coming specifically to see me and to bring either their sons or daughters to meet me."

Toronto Raptors fans cheer at Rogers Square at a public viewing in Halifax, N.S. According to Vallée, Raptors mania has brought more eyes to the Hamilton Honey Badgers and the rest of the Canadian Elite Basketball League. (Tim Krochak/Canadian Press)

The broadcast deal could not have come at a better time for the league, as more Canadians than ever are paying attention to basketball — for some odd reason. According to Vallée, that attention has "trickled down" to the CEBL.

"We had games where we opened up at the FirstOntario Centre, and then we projected the Raptors game against Golden State after us," she said.

"So we had thousands of fans watching our game and taking an interest in basketball in general, not just the Raptors."

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