The National Basketball League of Canada will be hosting its first ever Pre-Draft event on June 11, 2016, with the draft to follow on June 12. An argument can be made that over the past decade, basketball has been the fastest growing sport in Canada. Internationally, the male and female national teams have never been more competitive. Canadian high school players have become highly sought after prospects by American prep schools and NCAA programs; and the top tier CIS programs are competing with NCAA programs with budgets higher than most professional teams around the world. When you talk about basketball in Canada most, if not all, conversations will begin with the Raptors. Some discussions may include the CIS but very few will mention the National Basketball League of Canada (NBLC). Founded on May 5, 2011, the NBLC is in its fifth year of existence. As a member of the NBL community, I am afforded a firsthand look at the positive impact that the NBL has had within its communities. NBLC teams are heavily involved in community events such as school visits, after-school programs, and other outreach initiatives. In addition to developing community relationships, the NBL also provides a platform for young Canadians looking to play professional basketball and display their abilities in front of family and friends.
This past season over thirty-two Canadian born players were employed by NBL teams in eight locations across the country, including within the Niagara Region, London, Windsor, Orangeville, Halifax, Saint John, Moncton, and Prince Edward Island. The NBLC has provided its fans a great basketball product with a long list of athletes that have graduated from CIS and NCAA programs, and have played amongst some of the best competition in the world. Consider former NBA players like Sherron Collins (Kansas) and Chris Smith (Louisville) for example; or look at an NBL roster, and the top NCAA schools are represented, players that have called programs like Kansas, UCLA, North Carolina, Virginia, and Oregon home. These players are now providing an affordable, fast-paced, entertaining basketball product. The current NBL Canadian of the Year is former Ottawa Gee-Gee, Warren Ward, who is now playing for his hometown team, London Lightning.
The current commissioner of the League is David Magley who was named the Indiana Mr. Basketball as a high school senior. Magley later went on to play four years at Kansas and was the 28th overall pick in the 1982 NBA draft. Other former NBA players turned NBL coaches are: Mark Strickland who played for five different NBA teams; Cliff Levingston, the 9th overall pick in the 1982 draft and a two-time champion with the Chicago Bulls from 1990-92; Craig Hodges, also a two-time champion with the Chicago Bulls; Paul Mokeski who had an 11 year NBA career and has been an assistant coach for two NBA teams; and the defending league champions, Windsor Express, are coached by Bill Jones who logged minutes in thirty-seven NBA games with the New Jersey Nets in 1989.
The First Annual Canadian Pre-Draft Evaluation event is another way that the NBLC is working towards providing Canada with a domestic league of which it can be proud. The NBLC is looking to capitalize on the growing talent in Canadian basketball at all levels. A full Canadian draft is the first of its kind, and league owners believe that this is the next step towards improving the already high-level of Canadian talent within the league. The options available for young Canadians looking to play basketball can be challenging, with many of our talented youth leaving the country at a very young age to play in prep schools down south. Youth are looking for scholarships to play in the States, which hopefully may lead to a professional career either as an NBA player or a professional playing overseas. The NBLC is providing young Canadians the opportunity to play basketball at a high-level without having to travel halfway around the world.
The First Annual Canadian Draft is just the beginning of many steps made by the NBLC to recognize the importance of Canadian content within its own league. As basketball grows in this country and around the world, Canada must have a platform that provides young Canadians a chance to display their ability and talent, while giving back to our communities. The National Basketball League of Canada can provide such a platform.