NBL travelling to Barrie

Cheryl Browne

By Cheryl Browne, Barrie Examiner

For the country that invented the game, we've done a poor job of claiming basketball as our national sport.

With any luck at all, that could change.

The National Basketball League of Canada announced they are interested in bringing teams to Barrie, Oshawa, Kingston and Prince Edward Island this year.

A hot twitter tweet had the Barrie sports world abuzz Thursday, as people tried to confirm Barrie's plan to host a team at the Barrie Molson Centre.

While there's little information about the Barrie team's owners, Mayor Jeff Lehman did confirm via e-mail that it's more than just a rumour.

"There have been a few preliminary meetings but no deal yet for a franchise in this new league in Barrie," said Lehman on Thursday afternoon. He said it's "an exciting opportunity" but is watching the bottom line very carefully.

"There are plans for additional meetings in the near future to see if this idea can be pursued, if not for this season than perhaps next season," said Lehman.

According to president of the NBL in Halifax, Andre Levingston, an earlier deal with the city had been taken off the table, but a recent "emergency meeting with the owners and city staff" had revived the deal and he's hoping to come back up to Barrie at the end of June to secure a leasing agreement with the City of Barrie to seal the deal.

Levingston, a former basketball player with Chico State, an NCAA Division II university in California, said he visited Barrie a month ago and saw what a great opportunity the growing city has to offer to the basketball league.

"We've got some business partners who are extremely committed to basketball up there. And frankly, why would a city not want to do it? You have the fan base for hockey, why not have basketball, too?"

Levingston is president of the league that started with three teams, including the Saint John (N.B.) Mill Rats, the Halifax Rainmen and the Quebec Kebs.

All other Ontario cities currently being scouted as possible homes for the league expansion also have minor hockey league associations.

Although it would be the first national pro league in Canada, details are sketchy at best.

The league hopes to develop players for the NBA, but entertainment and competitiveness are the top priorities.

Barrie Central's sports coach Steve Porter said although Barrie's considered a hockey town, he thinks there's room for a basketball league as well.

"It's going to help raise the profile of basketball in Barrie," said Porter. He rhymed off a few names of Barrie athletes who've left to play basketball in Europe because of the slim pickings Canada has to offer.

Owner of Phase One Basketball in North York and well-known Ontario basketball coach, Wayne Dawkins, is in the process of putting the final touches on his All Canada Classics tournament at the ACC this month.

He's heard the rumour of the expansion of the mostly eastern NBL and agrees Barrie would be well positioned for a team at this time.

"There's still some work to be done," said Dawkins, "But as far as a team goes, the infrastructure's already there. You've got the market, the venue, the seating, the ticket sales (at the BMC) and the sports fan base."

-- with files from Ian Shantz

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