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New pro basketball league coming in 2019 has big plans for Guelph

Guelph's Canadian Elite Basketball League franchise will play out of the Sleeman Centre during the summer
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A new professional basketball league coming to Guelph says it will succeed on and off the court.

The six-team Canadian Elite Basketball League is scheduled to hit the court in May of 2019.

The Guelph team, the name and colours of which will be revealed at a public event on June 13, will play a 20-game season from May to August, with home games at the Sleeman Centre.

Other teams will be located in Hamilton, Niagara and three in Western Canada: Abbotsford, B.C., Edmonton and Saskatoon.

Those behind the league hope the CEBL will expand to eight teams in year two and 10 or 12 teams by year three. It will play by FIBA rules.

The president of the Guelph team is Cameron Kusch, who previously worked in marketing at B.C. Place in Vancouver.

“We are well-financed and well-positioned to get this thing going,” Kusch said from the team’s office in Old Quebec Street. “It’s 100 percent a go.”

The man behind the league is Richard Petko, a Niagara-area businessman who previously owned the Niagara River Lions of the National Basketball League of Canada.

Petko had a falling out with that league and was unhappy with the way it was run and marketed.

He formed the new league, already hiring roughly 15 people to help get it off the ground, including former CFL player Mike Morreale as its CEO.

Petko and his investors will own all six teams in the league, at least initially.

“If this is going to be done right, and done differently than the National Basketball League of Canada, then we need to have a national model in place,” Kusch said.

Ticket pricing will be somewhere between what the Guelph Storm charges and what the Hamilton Tiger-Cats charge, he said, which would likely put adult prices starting at roughly $25 to $35 a game.

“We’re coming from a professional front. We want to portray a professional form of entertainment, not just for families in the area, but passionate basketball fans as well,” said Kusch.

That means cheerleaders, halftime shows, giveaways, private box rentals and post-game autograph sessions, among other things.

On the court the league hopes that by playing in the summer it will be able to attract high-level talent, including Canadian talent, that play in other leagues around the world during the fall and winter.

Their goals are lofty ones.

“The plan is, from Day 1, to fill the Sleeman Centre,” Kusch said of the 5,000-seat facility.

“Our goal is to make it feel like a basketball arena, not a basketball court in a hockey arena.”

The biggest crowd to ever watch a basketball game of any kind in Guelph would be around 1,500 to 2,000, either the Guelph Gryphons in their heyday or the first home game of the Wellington team that played in the former Canadian Basketball League.

Kusch is well aware that two previous attempts at pro basketball in the Royal City failed, most recently the Canadian Basketball League that played one season in 2016-17 and before that the Ontario Professional Basketball League, which didn’t finish its first season.

He said the job he has now is to get out into the Guelph community “and show them the level of professional product that we’re going to offer the people of Guelph.”

The press conference on June 13 is open to the public and happens at 11 a.m. at the Sleeman Centre.