The Edmonton Stingers are undeniably the best team in the Canadian Elite Basketball League. They are repeat champions coming off a performance that can only be described as a display of true dominance in the championship game against Niagara. Now, the Stringers will have a chance to prove themselves beyond the confines of the great white north.
If you’ve ever watched European Soccer and know the format of the Champions League, the idea of the BCLA will come easily to you. The Basketball Champions League Americas is FIBA’s Pan-American equivalent to the Champions League, and it is massive. 12 teams, from Edmonton all the way to Argentina are represented here. While its soccer equivalent is only continental, the BCLA spans two continents, North America and South America.
The BCLA is new, being formed in 2019, and has only played two seasons due to complications from the COVID-19 pandemic, so it is no surprise if you haven’t heard of it but if you haven’t, you should start paying attention. Winning the BCLA is more than just “woohoo, we’re the best in the Americas” because it means more than that. Aside from this being a great display of Canadian basketball prowess, something that needs to be rectified after a shameful bow out of Olympic qualification by the national team, the winner of the BCLA goes forth to another FIBA competition, the Intercontinental Cup.
The Intercontinental Cup is exactly like it sounds, a tournament where teams from different continents duke it out for the championship. To see a CEBL team, from a league so new, so domestically influenced and so green, against proven and storied European franchises that have created NBA talent or an NBA G-League team would legitimatize such the league so much, especially with talks among FIBA to eventually welcome the second-most premiere Basketball league in the world, Australia’s NBL to the Intercontinental Cup, this is a good path for the league to establish itself beyond Canada.
In September, The BCLA 2021-22 season is slated to begin in December. CEBL Champions, the Edmonton Stingers are in Group A alongside Nicaraguan side Real Estelí and Puerto Rican side Cangrejeros de Santruce. This is the CEBL’s first foray into the international arena and whilst I do follow basketball, I am not as familiar with Nicaraguan or Puerto Rican Basketball. So I put my time and effort into researching these two sides, their respective leagues and their play styles. Here are my findings.
First, Cangrejeros de Santurce, referred by fans as simply “Santurce”, is the first team in Puerto Rico to participate in the BCLA, putting them on the same playing field as Edmonton, the first team from the CEBL. Santurce is also a new team, in that, it’s not even a year old. It has gone through many iterations and been made defunct and revived many times. This iteration was bought by an ownership group consisting of Noah Assad, Jonathan Miranda and Reggaetón artist Bad Bunny. The team has some serious financials behind it and has definitely begun to flaunt that.
Santurce has former NBA players on its squad, Thomas Robinson, J.J Barea, Donta Smith and Michael Beasley. Yes, that Michael Beasley. All of these players have actual NBA experience and served as either starters or rotation players at least once in their careers, but the downside of having this many veterans? Not a single one of them is younger than 30.
So yes, this team is loaded with talent, but how do they work together? Well, not as good as you’d like to think. Santurce isn’t a complete powerhouse like our CEBL starlets Edmonton are. They actually came fourth in their division in Puerto Rico’s professional league, Baloncesto Superior Nacional, and barely qualified for the playoffs, they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, losing 2-4 to Capitanes de Arecibo, the actual steamroller of professional Puerto Rican basketball. In fact, Santurce came into that series as the underdog and left as expected, falling to the favourites.
But what about all that NBA talent? Why didn’t they come up when needed? Well. There’s actually a reason behind that. Let’s use Beasley as an example. He joined the team on October 5, 2021. The season started in July. In fact, Beasley joined the team five days before the start of the playoffs. Did he make an impact? Yes. Of course. His first game for Santurce was a 32 point show-out where Santurce lost. The story continues throughout the playoffs, 18 points, loss, double-double, loss, 19 points, loss.
He was trying to hold up the weight of the team by himself, a team he wasn’t even acclimated to yet and knew no one on. So what about fellow NBA draft top-five pick, Thomas Robinson? Robinson followed the same story, top-notch performances with nothing to show for it, including 19 points, 17 rebound games. I would talk about the others too, but it’s the exact same? So what exactly is it holding these players back?
I watched a few games and tried to figure it out. This is what I hypothesized. The team is a high-scoring team that clearly has a superstar squad. They’re scoring frequently off threes and at the mid-range so shooting is not an issue at all. They are just slow, very slow and also, they’re not as physically durable as they once were. So many times I saw them being outplayed by the speed of young, more athletic players, they’re being pushed around frequently and players are constantly getting in the paint enough to grab easy baskets.
This is what comes with having an older team of course but it isn’t something that can be fixed super easily, especially if they’ve spent a lot of money on these players, the same players that I am watching become absolutely exhausted by the second quarter cause they’re being thrown onto the court so frequently. These are still some of the best talents the league could buy and their biggest talent, Michael Beasley, isn’t exactly adjusted to the team yet due to his late addition. I would expect him to be by the time the BCLA starts.
What about our Nicaraguan side Real Estelí? They’re veterans of international basketball first and foremost and honestly, I’d argue not just veterans, but a force to be reckoned with. In 2019, they made it to the quarterfinals and then in 2020, they reached the finals, losing to Brazilian side Flamengo 84-80.
What makes this side special? Well. They have no NBA vets, they’re primarily a Nicaraguan squad so it’s not like Santurce where they bought their talent. I watched some tape and observed what I saw. They love fast breaks and they try their best to not allow the other team time to comprehend and formulate and when they get put in a situation where they need to strategize, they pass smart, they keep the ball flowing, they don’t try to force shots. On defence, they clamp down hard. This isn’t a soft form of basketball, they don’t make it easy for any opposing side and it’s obvious after just a quarter, this is a side that should be feared and should make a fun match-up.
So what does this all mean for Edmonton? CEBL fans know what they’re getting with the Stingers, maybe less so now that Xavier Moon is chasing his NBA dream in the G-League but the Stingers are still a fantastic team worthy of representing the CEBL on the international stage. Do I think they’re good enough to make it to the finals? Yes. Canadian basketball is good basketball. We knew this before the Raptors won a championship and we’ll be shown that this year when the Stingers welcome our international competition to town.
The problem is, how adaptable are the Stingers? For most of these players, this is the first time they’ll even taste international basketball, not even domestically but for their national teams. It’s a different ball game, you go to a different country that doesn’t speak your language, you play against a home crowd that will 99% have none of your fans there and then on top of that, your team leader and two-time MVP is gone. The team will need a new leader to stand up and lead meanwhile staying consistent. Edmonton has proven time and time again they are the best the CEBL has to offer, now they have a chance to be more than that.