Xavier Moon, three-time Canadian Elite Basketball League MVP, will be at the Edmonton Expo Center Friday night for the Stingers’ home opener.
This season, however, he will not be in his usual role as a starting goalkeeper on the pitch, but as a guest of honour.
The current Los Angeles Clipper has worked his way through many stops across the globe on his way to the NBA, but none more significant than his three-year stint in Edmonton with the Stingers in the CEBL.
“We will bring [Moon] for our first game, our home opener,” said Stingers president Reed Clarke. “We are going to do a banner ceremony. He is still a big part of this team and this organization.
“We’re still in touch and checking in all the time because we’re proud of the success he’s had. And he always remembers that it came from the Stingers and what [head coach and general manager Jermaine] Small and everyone did to get him there. He recognizes it very well.”
The 27-year-old isn’t shy about paying homage to his roots, as evidenced by his appearance at the London Lightning’s final home game of the 2022 National Basketball League of Canada season, a team he played with twice from 2018-20, earning All-NBL Canada First Team honors in 2019-20.
Perhaps most significant to his development was Small, who took the leap with Moon to join CEBL in its inaugural season in 2019.
The back-to-back champion coach was well aware of Moon’s lofty aspirations and encouraged him every step of the way, saying Moon’s rise was not born of hope, but of design.
“It’s a development league,” said CEBL’s Small. “For me, it’s the heart of the game. And it’s not just for players, it’s for coaches like me. It’s helped me develop a lot.”
Small was an assistant coach at both Metropolitan University of Toronto and Queen’s University before joining the CEBL, and is still the head coach at the University of Lethbridge.
Perhaps the most dramatic change from U Sports to CEBL is the ability to recruit overseas, an increasingly useful tool available to a CEBL general manager given that two-time final MVP Moon is from Goodwater, Ala., and attended school in Northwest Florida State and Morehead State in Kentucky.
During his nine years at U Sports, Small’s international repertoire consisted of a guard from Long Island, New York to Russell Winters at Queen’s, and an Australian duo in Lethbridge with center Zachary Coleman-Bock and forward Alec Hillman .
This year alone in Edmonton, the Stingers have a roster that includes Englishman Rowell Graham-Bell, two African players (Somto Dimanochie from Nigeria and Roger Moute a Bidias from Cameroon) and three Americans (Georgia Freddie McSwain Jr., Marlon Johnson from Illinois and Devon Bookert in Alaska).
“We have a player coming in this year who went to Florida State, but he was born and raised in Alaska,” Small said of Bookert, who recently played point guard CS Rapid București in the Liga Nationala in Romania. “We have an Alaskan. Who says that right now but us? The talent is everywhere, but not the opportunities.”
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Edmonton provided plenty of opportunities for other players when they entered the Basketball Champions League Americas (BCLA) competition, a tournament that brings together 12 of the best basketball teams from seven countries in the Americas to compete for a spot in the the FIBA 2023 International Cup.
Jahmal Jones was the only player on the Stingers roster in 2021 who was able to make every leg of the tournament for Edmonton, meaning the Stingers had to get creative with roster build, drawing inspiration from various sources, including rival CEBL teams.
“[The Stingers performance] showed that CEBL can play with any of these southern professional leagues, and are on the same level,” Clarke said of the team’s 3-3 record in the group game against the Cangrejeros of Puerto Rico and Nicaragua’s Real Estelí, 2021 BCLA runners-up who lost in the 2022 quarter-finals to eventual champion São Paulo.” If we had [our regular roster], we’re playing in the next stage of that, playing against top teams from Brazil and Argentina. I really believe it.”
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Although the Stingers did not advance to the quarterfinals, their 2-0 performance in Calgary with a roster that most closely resembled their regular iteration – led by CEBL leading rebounder in 2019 and 2020 and Jordan Baker, native of Edmonton – did much to legitimize both the Stingers and the CEBL as a whole.
“I told them in the locker room in Nicaragua, ‘We are pioneers,'” Small said. “We are the first group to do this for Canada and the CEBL. I think this opportunity was taken and savored and we made the most of it. It was for a bigger purpose.”
Interaction between CEBL, NBA
One player who made an appearance for the Stingers in Nicaragua was Josh Selby, who played for the No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks in 2010-11, making a run to the top 8 in the men’s basketball tournament. of NCAA Division I before dropping to Virginia Commonwealth University. He was drafted in the second round of the NBA draft and played two seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies.
That kind of experience can be invaluable to sprinkle on a roster like the Stingers, acting as an intersection with players who haven’t had a chance to play at that level.
“When a guy has the G League or top-flight Europe on his resume, you know the moment won’t be too big for him because he’s played in top-flight matches,” Small said. “It is very appreciated when I recruit.
“But also, I look at rough diamonds, and I think that’s what Moon is. I think [Mathieu] Kamba is the same where they went to small Division I schools. They didn’t go to Kansas or Duke or play in the tournament. These guys I find are a little hungrier.”
If there’s one player on the Stingers 2022 roster who’s bound to follow in Moon’s footsteps to get an NBA contract, Small and Clarke both agree Calgary native Kamba is top of the list. listing.
“We’ve been talking about Kamba for a while,” Clarke said of the 26-year-old full-back, also adding 28-year-old winger Johnson as a name to watch. “I think he’s going to take it to the next level. He’s got that chance of being selected in the G League and going from there. He fits that mould, 100 per cent.”
Kamba brings a well-balanced game to the table, ranking fourth in points, third in three-pointers, fifth in steals and third in blocks for the 2021 Stingers in per-game averages.
The former Central Arkansas Bear also has a penchant for big games, with his most notable performance to date being a career-high 26 points in the 2020 semifinals against the Ottawa BlackJacks. Small notes that the only year he didn’t play in the last four was the year the Stingers didn’t win the championship.
“Look at the NBA with a player like Damien Lillard,” Small said of players who have made an impact in the NBA from more humble beginnings. “He went to Weber State. CJ McCollum. Max Strus. You see him more and more now.
“Those kind of guys, Division II guys or whatever you want to call them, they help NBA teams win. I think you need a few of those guys all the time.”
To date, the CEBL has seen four other players earn NBA contracts in addition to Moon: Javin DeLaurier of the Niagara River Lions (Milwaukee Bucks), and Cat Barber (Atlanta Hawks), Xavier Sneed (Memphis Grizzlies) and Lindell Wigginton of the Hamiltons. Honey badgers (Bucks).
If the Stingers see another player on their roster follow the same path, the Edmonton Brass will only consider it a success, no matter how it impacts the likelihood of another championship.
“In a city like Edmonton, having someone who went to the NBA gives our team and the league so much more legitimacy,” Clarke said. “And that’s what our fans want to see.”