Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Former Stars Reflect on NBL Canada Experience

The NBL Canada is a rising league that has provided players, ranging from up-and-coming youngsters to seasoned veterans, with a close place to continue pursuing their passion after leaving college. For five seasons, fans have gotten the chance to see countless stars and unforgettable plays. NBLCNET caught up with some of the NBL Canada's very best, and we asked for their thoughts on the league and their chances of making a return.

Darrell Wonge, a familiar face among fans of the Moncton Miracles, considers the NBL Canada to be a very real possibility. In fact, he says he could return as early as next season. The former all-star forward most recently spent time in the Middle East and has also played in Ecuador since leaving Miracle Nation. 
"I like the league. It's competitive, and the fans are great. Once they're able to get more sponsors, I think they'll be able to expand and pay players more. Also, I feel they need to improve the draft. Most of the players they draft get cut before the season even starts, so a lot of them don't really get a fair shot. But other than that, the league is going in the a good direction. And I hope the best for its overall success. I might return next season if I get a good enough offer. I love the fans of the league and really enjoyed playing in the league."
 — Darrell Wonge

However, Devin Sweetney, who was named NBL Canada MVP back in 2013 with the same team, has other plans. Since his stint with the Miracles, this swingman has been taking his game to new heights. After competing in Switzerland and Latin America, Sweetney joined the Denver Nuggets of the NBA for training camp. Now, he's ready for the next level.
"The NBL Canada is a great league, and I am humbled and honored to have had the most successful season there in league history. I have had the most fun there, playing in Moncton, than any of city or league in my professional career. However, I am working to hopefully return back to the NBA or playing in the highest level in Europe to take care of my son and my family so I highly doubt I'll return back to Canada anytime soon. But before I'm done playing, it would be nice to put on a Moncton jersey one more time for the fans and Miracle Nation for all the love and support I've received over the years. You can never say never in this business. We just have to hopefully one day see."
— Devin Sweetney

Over in London, all-star and Lightning veteran Tim Ellis is looking forward to getting a job in the NBL Canada. Starting 2011, Ellis played three seasons with the Lightning, winning two titles under head coach Micheal Ray Richardson. He retired two seasons ago, so if he returns, check for him on the coaching staff.
"I would return right now if they asked me. I have a lot to offer to the league with any team, but of course I would love to return to London...that's my home. I could even coach in the league because of my background."
— Tim Ellis

Kenny Jones was the leading scorer in the league last season. Since his departure, the former Saint John Mill Rats man has competed in Mexico and Argentina. Jones hopes that the league will continue its trend of improvement since the start of the season, and he can't rule the NBL Canada out for his destination next year.
"I think the NBLC is a good and upcoming league...lot of good, tough talent. I know a lot of players that may over look the NBLC, but me playing a season and a half, I know it's a good tough league to be to open the door to getting bigger contracts overseas. It's definitely a good chance for me coming back to the league in the future, for sure, if they keep going in the direction the league is going in. I can seen the NBLC getting bigger and expanding more in the upcoming seasons. And the more they expand, the more top-notch players will come and stay for more than just a single season."
— Kenny Jones

Omar Strong was one of the best players to wear a Mississauga Power jersey, breaking their all-time three-pointer record in just one season. Strong, standing just 5 ft 9 in (1.75 m), was the heartbeat of their offense under head coach Kyle Julius. Following a disappointing season, Strong moved along to France.
"It's great talent in the league, for sure, but the pay and refs will make you not want to come back."
— Omar Strong 

Cedric Moodie was an all-star shooting guard and all-league selection for the Brampton A's. He has also competed with the Halifax Rainmen and the Quebec Kebs in Canada, and in Mexico and South America. Now retired, after nearly 14 years playing professionally, Moodie has no plans to return to the NBL Canada.
"I'm retired from playing ball, so I wouldn't be interested in returning to any league. The Canadian league was a competitive league, though. Hopefully, they get bigger crowds so they can pay guys more."
— Cedric Moodie

Tim Parham knows the top competition in this league like few others, having competed with the Windsor Express last season, after becoming one of the best players to ever suit up for the Halifax Rainmen. An all-star and a rebounding machine, Parham hasn't returned this season, setting his sights on South America. Before joining the NBL, he went through a dizzying pro career.
"I think the league, as a whole, is going in the right direction. I think the competition is great, and it is an excellent platform to display your skills. Friendly and die-hard fans—plus you are playing in a nice arena every night. The only thing I wish was changed about the league was players being paid in U.S. dollars. The Canadian dollar is quite low, and most of the players in the NBL are from the States. Then the money is taxed (which you can file in February or March), so you're going home with basically less than half of what you make in U.S. dollars. It's tough—but I will say, if you are a hungry athlete and willing to make sacrifices for the sake of playing overseas in the future, this is a great league to play in. Great marketing and media in the NBL nowadays. As far as me making a return, I'll never say never, but I'm content with playing overseas right now. I'm in Venezuela right now, playing. What people don't know is I've played 7 years overseas prior to playing in the NBL. My time in the NBL was a complete blast, and the relationships and memories I've made are priceless. Canada will always have a soft spot in my heart."
— Tim Parham 

Jonas Pierre was an All-NBL Canada selection back in 2013 with the former Montreal Jazz. He led the league in blocks and had a monstrous presence in the paint. The Jazz finished the season just 2–38, but Pierre remained one of the league's big stars. He has also been with the Quebec Kebs in the Premier Basketball League, the Mill Rats, and the Miracles. Pierre's playing days might be over, but his basketball days aren't.
"I think it's a good league. There's always room for improvement, but I think the league was fair to me. But a lot of players might have a different opinion, such as the pay and per diems. Canadians might say the league needs more Canadians since it's a league in Canada. People will always have something to say! The only thing I felt was not one-hundred percent was players getting waived with no compensation. Other than that, I like the league. I think it gives young players exposure and a chance to play basketball after college. As for me coming back, I'll pass! My basketball days are over—my knees hurt too much after practice! But I would love to come back as a coach in a couple years to help younger players improve. Who knows—maybe one day the league will have a team in Quebec City again, and I'll be more then happy to coach!" 
— Jonas Pierre

Four different cities have gotten the opportunity to see Tyrone Levett suit up, including Saint John, Halifax, Moncton, and London. However, 36-year-old hasn't made an appearance this season. Levett, a former all-star, has taught fellow players how to defy age and wants to keep it going.
"I really like the league, but it has a lot of room to grow to become a great league. I think that the league has had a lot of great talent that comes through and uses it as a stepping stone to bigger jobs. I would love to come a play; I just need the right situation. I work really hard on my craft. I feel at 36, I still can play at a high level, and through my experiences, I have learned so much as a pro."
— Tyrone Levett 

Newer fans may not recognize this veteran guard, but long-time supporters will know Ralphy Holmes as the man who made the very first basket in NBL Canada history. Holmes was a first team All-NBL selection with the Quebec Kebs in its inaugural season. He briefly returned the following season in a Storm jersey. Since then, he's played in Colombia and the PBL.
"I think the league has grown tremendously; the NBL Canada is getting some pretty good players to come and play in their country. My experience in Canada was awesome—met a lot of good friends that I still keep in contact with today. As for me returning and playing there, it's very slim to none, because the strict rules of getting into the country is very hard at times to enter. Because of minor citations here in America, it's a lot more harsher there in Canada. I never have any issues going anywhere else in the world except Canada. I had lots of opportunities to play for a handful of teams this season in Canada. I'm just honored to be the first person to score a single point in NBL history."
— Ralphy Holmes 

Ghanaian-Canadian point guard Antwi Atuahene played with the London Lightning and the Island Storm in the league's second and third seasons. An all-star reserve, Atuahene was a reputed passer and defender. However, he grew unhappy with the Lightning organization, and after joining the Island Storm for a while, he left the NBL. He still isn't out of the picture.
"I feel the league has had it's fair share of ups and downs in the past five years. But if you want to achieve something great, you must get through adversity. I think with the new leadership, the NBL will continue to build a strong foundation and be a platform for young men to pursue their dreams. If the right opportunity presented itself, I would return to the league."
— Antwi Atuahene 

Joey Haywood left a legacy behind with the Halifax Rainmen, but his career in the NBL Canada didn't end so well. His team chose to forfeit Game 7 of the 2015 NBL Canada Finals, and the rest is history. The flashy floor general is a two-time all-star, having captained at the inaugural All-Star Game against Eddie Smith of the Windsor Express. Hailing from Vancouver, BC, Haywood was also named Canadian of the Year twice.
"I think the league is stable now and is going to be around for a long time. Usually, new leagues last about one to three years and they fold. But the NBLC has passed the three-year mark, and it's not looking like it will fold. I think the competition has gotten better every year, since more players are looking for opportunities to play pro. The league has given Canadian players an opportunity to stay close to home and play professional basketball in front of friends and family. I might make a return to the NBLC next season. I have a few options on training youth and playing overseas. But being close to home and family will be better then going overseas. But it has to be a good situation for my family and I."
— Joey Haywood

You may have caught a glimpse of Kyle Johnson if you tuned into Brampton A's basketball last season. Although a native of Toronto, he is a regular for the British national team. Outside of the NBL, Johnson has a history of playing overseas, and he currently plays in Italy.
"I think that it's great for Canada to have a league with potential to grow. There is a lot of talent in the NBL Canada league, and it would be great to see more local fans out attending the games on a regular basis throughout the country. Last year, I was disappointed when I heard there was not a Game 7 of NBL Canada Finals, to be honest. But with that said, I think the league is going in the right direction and the future is bright for the league. As for a return, I can't predict the future, but I'm open to returning if the right situation or opportunity presented itself down the line."
— Kyle Johnson 

Raheem Singleton's NBL Canada experience dates back to 2013, when he was drafted by the London Lightning.  He has been doing a lot of jumping around in the North American minor leagues since going pro. In the Canadian league, Singleton spent all of last season with the Saint John Mill Rats and had short-lived contracts with the Windsor Express and then the Island Storm in 2016. As of right now, he is with the Rochester Razorsharks in the PBL.
"I feel like the NBLC is a great league to start your career and end your career, but not a great place to build a career. I love the fans and the competition; I do wish we could play the other conferences more than twice and that travel was a little bit better, and I feel like they should make the salary cap higher or pay in U.S. dollars. I don't know [about returning] right now; the money is not that great."
— Raheem Singleton 

Kevin Loiselle has accomplished a lot during his years in the NBL Canada: two championships with the Windsor Express, an All-Star Game appearance, and all-league honors. Loiselle, a native of Montreal, has grown into one of the best Canadians to play in this league. This season, he joined his former rivals, the London Lightning, but he left in February after a far less successful stretch.
"Like anything, you need to get better year after year and need to bring in more and more fans. The league has done well with Magley and seems to only grow. I have been there for four years, so for me, I'm hoping I don't [return], but if I have to, I will."
— Kevin Loiselle