Professional options limited

Lack of Canadian pro leagues sends Gaels’ basketball and volleyball players overseas

Former Gaels men’s volleyball player Michael Amoroso (left) is currently playing for Orkelljunga Volley in Sweden.
Former Gaels men’s volleyball player Michael Amoroso (left) is currently playing for Orkelljunga Volley in Sweden.

Former Gaels are forced to take their talents overseas for professional exposure.

Brittany Moore of the women’s basketball team and Michael Amoroso, Niko Rukavina and Joren Zeeman of the men’s volleyball team all left Queen’s last spring and started their professional careers in Europe.

With no professional women’s basketball league in Canada, aspiring female basketball players like Moore resort to semi-professional opportunities for a chance to play in the upper echelon.

For Moore, that meant heading to Germany to play for TSV Quakenbrück.

“It was either I start my teaching career or I continue to play while my body can still support me,” she said. “Being able to continue to push myself to become a better player and succeed at a higher level is quite an opportunity.”

But Moore is a rare example. Most of the 650 or so women in the CIS will reach the height of their basketball careers playing for their university team.

As a country ranked ninth in the world in women’s basketball with 44 universities competing at the CIS level, Canada has a void seemingly waiting to be filled by a women’s professional basketball league.

Queen’s women’s basketball assistant coach James Bambury thinks it would be difficult, based on his four years of coaching experience with Leeds Carnegie, in division 1 of the English Basketball League (EBL).

“Sports teams represent your local town or community, and they’d get about 200-300 supporters per game,” Bambury said. “Whereas we subscribe to the sports and academics model. Rarely do you find supporters out at semi-professional leagues.”

The CIS is currently the highest women’s basketball level in Canada, but the opportunity overseas is vast, according to Bambury.

“It’s definitely a great opportunity for females, and they don’t have to be First-Team All-Canadians.”

Although there are no professional basketball options for women, the newly developed National Basketball League of Canada (NBLC) is a domestic option for men looking to enter the professional ranks.

“For its inaugural year, the league mandated that each team must carry two Canadian players on their roster,” said Susan Gordon, deputy commissioner of the NBLC. “That number has been increased to three, and the number of Canadian players is expected to increase further as the level of Canadian talent continues to grow.”

Canada is currently ranked 26th in the world by the International Basketball Federation. It was previously the only top-30 basketball nation without a professional league of its own, prior to the development of the NBLC.

“[The NBLC] gives Canadian basketball fans the opportunity to see live, high quality basketball at an affordable price, and it gives Canadian players the chance to continue their basketball careers beyond college [or] university in their home country,” Gordon said.

Canadian volleyball players aren’t given the same options at home, as Rukavina and Amoroso experienced first-hand. Both players signed contracts to play in Sweden this year, with Habo Volley and Orkelljunga Volley, respectively.

“Ever since I started playing for Queen’s, my ultimate goal was to get a contract playing professionally,” Rukavina said. “There are no pro leagues in North America, so being able to go overseas and play is an extremely exciting achievement.”

The state of men’s and women’s volleyball in Canada is currently quite similar: ranked 18th and 23rd in the world, respectively, and outsourcing their players to leagues around the world.

The development of a Canadian professional league would offer opportunities for more domestic players — not just a select few.

“To play at home in front of friends and family would mean the world,” Amoroso said.

A domestic pro league would be beneficial on several fronts, according to Amoroso. Players would have the opportunity to play well into their 20s, growing the talent available to the Canadian national team.

Amoroso said the biggest thing holding back Canada is the money.

“There isn’t enough money to pay coaches and players who have finished with their university careers, and if the interest is high enough — which I think it is — it has not been marketed properly and tapped well enough,” he said.

“Canadian players play in the best leagues in the world — it is by no means a skill issue.”

— With files from Peter Morrow

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