Guelph Nighthawks hoping to soar in CEBL

Rob Massey, Guelph Sports Journal

GUELPH – Are you ready for the Guelph Nighthawks?

As one of the Canadian Elite Basketball League’s original six, the Nighthawks are to be the next sports franchise in the city. Wednesday, the team unveiled its nickname, colours and logo at the Sleeman Centre where the team is scheduled to play its 10 home games next summer.

“It’s incredibly exciting,” Guelph Professional Basketball Club president Cameron Kusch said following the news conference. “We’ve been holding off on this new name, on this new brand. We’re excited to launch the Guelph Nighthawks. We think it’s a team name that really is indicative of Guelph. It’s this soaring bird of prey, but has incredible vision, incredible intellect so I see the name, the logo having a very close relationship with how Guelph personifies itself. We’re incredibly excited. We really see today as being our launch of the franchise on a local level.”

“This is the right city,” CEBL chief executive office Mike Morreale said. “I really believe between the venue, the community, the location, the summertime months, the family-affordable pricing and what we’re going to put on the court in terms of basketball that it is a perfect marriage and a perfect fit. I really believe this is the type of place that is going to surprise a few people. The beauty of how we’ve set it up literally as close to coast to coast as we can at this time, is that we’re going to get people to come in. Fraser Valley is going to come in here to play and so is Edmonton and so is Saskatoon which will open their eyes to Guelph itself and vice versa as they go travel. It’s an exciting time.”

While they have yet to be designed, the Nighthawks’ will wear uniforms of a blue, black and silver colour scheme.

The CEBL season is to run from May to August with the inaugural season scheduled to begin next summer. The league will use FIBA rules with four 10-minute quarters per game and while no players have been signed, the league plans to go with predominantly Canadian rosters.

“We’re actually in discussions with U Sport right now to determine what that draft strategy is,” Kusch said. “You will likely see a number of players that come from U Sport, but I wouldn’t say so much as to suggest that a first-, second- or third-year student is necessarily going to be playing in this league. You look at the talent pool of players, there is an incredible wealth of talent that just aren’t able to make that cut in the NBA and so whether it be home-grown talent or international talent, American or European players that are playing abroad, there’s this great pool of talent that we have to work with so we’re going to work through all of our resources with (CEBL’s head of basketball) Greg Francis, with Canada Basketball to make sure that we make this as premium a product as we can put on the court here at the Sleeman Centre.”

The Nighthawks also want to be productive members of the Guelph community.

“You’ll see as active members of the community over the summer months,” Kusch said. “We really want to get out into the community and start to build that relationship. We want to build that relationship with those that will be fans here, those businesses that are going to support us as we get going toward tipoff in May of 2019.

“As far as player acquisition and talent, that will start to come together in the tail end of 2018 and the start of 2019. From there we’ll start to use those resources as we want to become active members within the community. We want to make sure that we’re sharing those resources and that talent pool to put on different skills clinics with different basketball associations that are already established here in the community. I think we really have an obligation as a sports franchise within Guelph to became an active member in this community and we see certainly our talent pool and our skillset lending itself quite well to supporting those existing situations.”

The CEBL is to operate its inaugural season with six teams – the Nighthawks, Hamilton Honey Badgers, Niagara River Lions and unnamed teams in Edmonton, Saskatoon and the Fraser Valley (Abbotsford, B.C.). Those teams are to unveil their nicknames next month. With three teams in Ontario and three in Western Canada, teams will have travel expenses.

“There is and that was a strategy that was put in place from the outset,” Kusch said. “We said that if we’re going to do this right and we’re going to create a Canadian league, it needs to be a national brand. That was built into the budget immediately that travel was always going to be a component of it. At the same time, we don’t want Guelph playing Niagara six times a year where fans come here and they just get bored of seeing the same team play over and over again. What you’ll likely see in the first year is an equal number of home games, whether it be Niagara, whether it be Hamilton, whether it be the Fraser Valley, Edmonton or Saskatoon. They will all play an equal number of games here so the fans have a constant variety of teams that the Nighthawks will be playing against.”

The plan is that each team will play a 20-game regular season followed by single knockout playoffs. It’s also planned that teams will not make extended trips to play the teams in the other side of the country.

“The way that our schedule looks that it aligns is likely a game a week (at home),” Kusch said. “There will be a few a couple of weeks where we have to have two games in the schedule, but that does not mean that we will go out and do the western loop, if you will, and stay out west. When you look at the costs associated with putting players in hotel rooms for two or three nights while you wait to play Saskatoon and then going to Edmonton, the cost is going to be nearly similar to flying everyone back, having them stay in their own place here locally and then flying back out to go play another western team.”

Nothing has been decided as to what day or days of the week will be the primary home day for the Nighthawks as the league’s schedule has not been drawn up.

“Obviously being summer months, we recognize that cottaging is a big component of people within the Guelph community,” Kusch said. “Even so, I think people just love to get out in the summer months. Like Mike was mentioning, you’re cooped up inside during the entire winter so once the summer comes, you just want to get outside and enjoy the summer months on the patio and enjoy the downtown core. So I think just looking at a Friday or Saturday night probably makes a lot of sense for us because of that, but I wouldn’t say that we’ve landed on specifically a set day pattern or night that works for our franchise.”

While the league is to start with six teams, the vision is for a maximum of 12 teams. However, there’s no timetable for expansion.

“We’ve got interest already from other potential areas which we are obviously evaluating very closely. We have no problem starting with six in May. We don’t want to cram a team in just to say we have seven teams or eight teams,” Morreale said. “There is growth in the foreseeable future, but we want to grow smart.”

The CEBL will be the third professional basketball league to have a Guelph team in it. The Ontario Professional Basketball League with its own unique scoring system lasted a couple of months in 2005 and the Guelph Gladiators used the University of Guelph’s Mitchell Athletics Centre as its home base. The Guelph-based Wellington Basketball Team played its home games at the newly-opened Guelph Gryphons Athletics Centre in the four-team Canadian Basketball League’s inaugural season in 2016-17. The league never returned for a second season.

“I’m well aware of that as you should be as you have to do your homework,” Morreale said. “You can’t always be saying ‘Well, I’m the guy that’s going to change that.’ You have to have a compelling reason and a business plan to do it.”

So what makes the CEBL and Nighthawks think they’ll be successful when others weren’t?

“I think it goes to the experienced executive team that we have at the league level,” Kusch said. “The structure of this league has been set up so that it’s a single entity league, meaning that the league owns all six franchises and there’s a strategy behind that. The strategy is that we feel that the league can best direct each team to make sure it is best set up to ensure success as opposed to basically having the battle of the richer and the poorer owners who really create this level of separation between the teams. Instead, we now have this pool knowledge base between the presidents of each of the six teams and the executive leadership that we have at the league level to ensure that each team is set up for success.”

In other words, it’s an all-for-one and one-for-all mentality.

“I feel that we really have this strong pool of executive talent that are hopefully going to set us up for success,” Kusch said. “At the same time, we have the challenge here locally that we need to build that relationship. We need to create that relationship with everyone here locally to ultimately fill the Sleeman Centre. If we don’t succeed in that, certainly there are challenges in front of that, but I think we are set up for a great opportunity for success here at the Sleeman Centre and within the Guelph community.”