New league ignores local talent

Saskatchewan Roughrider and former Gael Shomari Williams looks at Canada’s first-ever pro basketball league

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I was really excited when I heard about a pro basketball league coming to Canada. When the news broke, I immediately thought about the possibility of Canadian players living out their dreams at home.

But when the National Basketball League of Canada (NBL) started its inaugural season on Oct. 29, there were only 15 Canadian players on league rosters.

With almost 90 players on seven teams across five different provinces, the country’s only pro basketball league should be a chance for league officials to use Canadian personnel to create a truly national basketball culture. But this isn’t what’s happening.

As a Canadian Football League player, I found it odd that the NBL promoted itself as a Canadian league and held a Canadian draft but wasn’t going to use Canadian players. League rules require only two Canadians on a 12-man roster, so the majority of players are American. There’s a place for imported talent in the NBL — but it shouldn’t come at the expense of local players.

In the CFL, game-day rosters must consist of 19 import players and 20 non-import players — of those 20 non-imports, seven of them have to be starters. These restrictions force teams to develop Canadian talent and allow the CFL to brand itself as a truly Canadian league.

Canadian fans like these rules. Here in Saskatchewan, the most popular Roughriders players other than quarterback Darian Durant are the home-grown ones. Our wide receiver Andy Fantuz, from Chatam, Ontario, has the highest-selling jersey in the league.

The CFL’s success proves that when you have a strong professional league that uses local talent, it will trickle down to university and youth levels. Teenagers play competitive high school football and elite players use Canadian Interuniversity Sport football to pursue professional careers.

Earlier this year, 18-year old running back Tyler Varga turned down multiple NCAA scholarship offers to play for the Western Mustangs. Without a strong pro league, Varga wouldn’t have had any incentive to stay in Canada.

The NBL has an obligation to its shareholders to put the best product on the court because its objective is to make money and to put people in the stands. But it’s a slap in the face that the NBL values imported talent more than the talent we have in Canada — especially considering the league’s financial restrictions.

With a salary cap of $150,000 per team, the league doesn’t have the resources to entice players who could sign lucrative contracts in Europe. So if you’re not attracting top import players, why not just use local ones?

NBL officials should look at the example being set overseas, where pro European basketball leagues use import restrictions to ensure that the majority of players are home-grown. This method has developed players talented enough to win Olympic medals and play in the NBA.

The NBL has a chance to do something special and create a truly Canadian league — it has a chance to make a made-in-Canada product. But with so few Canadians, they haven’t done that yet.

In order for Canadian basketball players to prove themselves, someone has to be willing to give them a chance. If they can’t find support in their own backyard, where are they supposed to look?

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