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Guelph Nighthawks finally returning to their nest

Canadian Elite Basketball League team finally gets a to play in the Royal City Friday night
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Guelph's Myles Charvis dribbles past a Niagara River Lions player in 2019 at the Sleeman Centre. Tony Saxon/GuelphToday file photo

The Guelph Nighthawks will be hoping that a return to their Sleeman Centre game home brings a reversal in their early-season Canadian Elite Basketball League fortunes. 

The Nighthawks, who have lost all three CEBL games they’ve played this season, are slated to play at the Sleeman Centre for the first time in 23 months Friday night when they’re to host the Hamilton Honey Badgers. Game time is 7 p.m.

“Honestly, I think we're doing a lot of good things,” said Nighthawks general manager and head coach Charles Kissi. “There's so much more good things than bad. Our record doesn't really reflect who we are. But it's only three games.”

Only the last-place finisher in the seven-team CEBL doesn’t qualify for the playoffs. The Saskatchewan Rattlers (0-4) are the only other winless team this season.

“As I’ve told our guys, ‘If a tiger is chasing seven of you, how fast do you have to run?’ Faster than the last guy,’” Kissi said. “We have to just keep getting better and getting better and getting better until the end. We're not worried about it. Obviously we have to get some wins, but we've got to continue to get better in clutch situations and just grind out those stops when we need them and stuff like that. We have chances and we give up an offensive rebound. Not a lot of them, but in crucial moments we just have some letdowns that we can fix. Those are all solvable issues.”

Spectators will not be allowed at Friday’s game, but it can be seen on CBC Gem.

It’s to be the first game at the Sleeman Centre since the Nighthawks fell 131-115 to the Honey Badgers to close out the home portion of the league’s inaugural season on August 9, 2019. All of last year’s two-week season was played in a bubble in Niagara while the Nighthawks have started this COVID-shortened season with three road games: at Ottawa June 28 and at Hamilton July 3 and 5.

“It feels weird that we've played in other facilities more than we have there,” Kissi said. “It's a great facility as we know. It's unfortunate that we can't have fans in the building because that would certainly be different, but it'll be nice to get back there. It'll be nice to get back into the locker space and feel the arena again and not have to sort of be in a foreign arena, so to speak. I'm looking forward to getting that first home game.”

The Nighthawks have been struggling getting shots to drop as they’ve hit an average of 44 per cent of their field goals and 31 per cent of their three-pointers.

“We have to make more open shots,” Kissi said. “We're getting shots, it's not a question of whether we're getting good shots. We are getting good shots, we're just not making them right now and we will. They'll fall.

“I think as a coach you have to be comfortable with the quality of shots that you're getting. I think that's more important right now and yes, eventually, we're going to have to start knocking some of them down and certainly getting them right now is important.”

While the Nighthawks will be looking for their first win of the season as they play Hamilton for the third consecutive game, Kissi will also be looking for his first ever victory at the Sleeman Centre. Friday’s game comes a day after the second anniversary of Kissi replacing Tarry Upshaw as the team’s GM and head coach. The Nighthawks lost their three home games of the 2019 campaign that they played after that.

Last win at home for the Nighthawks was a 92-86 victory over Fraser Valley Bandits June 15, 2019, with Upshaw on the bench.

The majority of the 14 players on the Nighthawks roster will be making their first appearance at the Sleeman Centre.

“A lot of our guys have never been to the gym. We're looking forward to being there. It'll be the first time in Guelph for a lot of players,” Kissi said. “We're definitely looking forward to just being in the space and being in the arena and just feeling what would be the crowd.”

Guards Olu Famutimi, Kimbal Mackenzie and Myles Charvis are the lone Nighthawks who were members of the inaugural team two years ago.

“They loved it. That's why they kept coming back,” Kissi said. “They just loved the experience and the vibe there. It was good to them. The people of Guelph really embraced this team. The fans have done a great job and it's unfortunate that we haven't been there in two years, but we're coming home.”