Get the latest summer forecast and weather knowledge from Cindy Day
Want to become a member? Check out the benefits here.
Thanking our essential workers
SaltWire's cartoonists bring heart and humour to the news.
Visit SaltWire.com for more of the stories you want.
SaltWire Selects: Stories worth sharing
What you need to know about COVID-19: September 22, 2020
It’s not quite the same as parading their trophy down the Avenue of Champions, but the 2020 Canadian Elite Basketball League champion Edmonton Stingers will gladly stroll victory lane nonetheless.
In a season turned on its head by a COVID-19 pandemic that kept fans on the outside looking in as all seven squads descended on neutral territory in St. Catharines, Ont., to play a shortened season in the form of a 16-day Summer Series tournament, the Stingers were crowned the second champions in the young league’s history on Sunday.
And members of the squad returned home Monday with the hardware in tow, refusing to let the pandemic rain on anything but an actual parade.
“I’m afraid we can’t do the big pageantry we would normally like to on a year like this, because that would be frowned upon and it’s the wrong thing to do, I’m afraid,” said Stingers president Brett Fraser. “So this year we’re just going to do it organically and have the trophy pop up at some landmarks around town and just start working towards next year. We’re defending champions now.
“After being in quarantine for 29 days, I was kind of hoping to take a couple days off, but this is even better.”
The first stop on the local tour was at the High Level Bridge, which was lit up in the team’s signature yellow and blue.
The Stingers capped a run of seven straight wins after suffering their only loss of the tournament to the Fraser Valley Bandits in their opener. Fittingly, it was the same Bandits they ended up defeating, 90-73, in Sunday’s final.
“It’s been a good run,” Fraser said. “A great run.”
And with the league testing out the Elam Ending — which aims to limit fouls as the game clock is turned off in the final minutes, while teams race to reach a predetermined score — it took every single member of the squad along the way to accomplish.
From Xavier Moon’s game-clinching baskets in the playoff portion, to Jordan Baker’s three-in-a-row Player of the Game awards in the round robin, to points from the bench that proved invaluable along the way, no one missed a mention from Fraser, who was all smiles despite having to wear a mask in a photo taken upon landing at the Edmonton International Airport.
“I was like, ‘Do I take it off?’ ” Fraser said. “And then I remembered, nope, airport. You can’t do that.”
The image encapsulates a season that might not have been, following the postponement of an initial 2020 schedule that was to have culminated in Edmonton during a Championship Weekend that was being sold as a summer package along with Edmonton Eskimos and Edmonton Prospects games.
“It was lightning in a bottle to make it work,” Fraser said of the bubble inside the Meridian Centre. “Oddly enough, we were able to capitalize on what was a crazy year. I think that just took a lot of perseverance from everybody: front office, head office and especially the players. We had six guys who were all in the top of the scoring brackets, so it was truly a team effort.
“But it goes to show you in a league like ours, you need Canadians to win. (Travis) Daniels and Moon were our two imports and they couldn’t be on the court all the time and they had a lot of attention on them, which opened the door for Baker, I believe, to have the best Canadian appearance of the whole series.”
It was also a golden finish to Jermaine Small’s first full season as Stingers head coach, after taking over from Barnaby Craddock midway through last year’s inaugural campaign. And while it might not have been an ideal situation for a fledgling franchise, Fraser was quick to point out the crew Craddock had assembled still made up the core that came up big this time around.
“He’s such a great coach, we were so lucky to have had him step up and carry it through to 2020,” Fraser said of Small. “I still really appreciate the foundation that was built for him, because that DNA is still there from Barnaby.
“Actually, I sent him a note yesterday and said thank you for all the work that you’ve put into this as well, because I don’t want it to be understated that while he didn’t finish the season last year, everyone has contributed to this success. Since then, Jermaine has done all the right things on the court: Empowered the leaders in the dressing room, made sure they had the proper rest and state of mind. He put on a clinic to get the best out of the players. They wanted it as much as he did and they fed off each other.”
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020