Photo By: Canadian Elite Basketball League

The NBA’s decision to push through and not postpone or cancel games amidst the recent influx in COVID-19 cases has led to some bizarre rosters across the league. This has included a greater number of G-League call-ups than ever before, and has even seen some alumni of the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) appearing on the NBA stage. 

Through 10-day hardship exemption contracts (granted to teams who need to replace regulars that are in health and safety protocols), there have been over 100 players called up from the NBA G-League in just the last few months. 

Many of these players have had brief stints in the league before. Long time NBA fans may have felt nostalgic when seasoned veteran players such as Joe Johnson, Isaiah Thomas and Lance Stephenson magically appeared once again. Fans of college basketball will recognize some old All-Americans who never quite stuck in the NBA (shoutout to Kyle Guy and Theo Pinson).

All the roster turnover has caused debate over how good of an opportunity it really is for these players to be showcasing themselves in such a situation. Despite the obvious depletion of talent, the NBA’s brief era of replacement players has certainly provided fans from cities across North America with more rooting interests. Essentially, more players to pull from equals more ties to local cities, universities and lower level professional teams. 

This may be the case in the Niagara Region as well, as we’ve seen two former Niagara River Lions make the leap to the NBA. Both Javin DeLaurier and Xavier Sneed, who suited up for the River Lions in the summer of 2021, were called up from the G-League to the Milwaukee Bucks and Memphis Grizzlies, respectively, in late December. 

The River Lions have competed in the CEBL for three seasons since the league’s inception, previously competing in the National Basketball League of Canada (NBL). Most recently, the River Lions finished 10-4 in the 2021 campaign and lost in the league finals to the Edmonton Stingers. 

CEBL rosters, not unlike recent NBA rosters, are littered with names that fans of college basketball (both NCAA and U Sports alike) are sure to recognize. Many of the league’s players will compete in leagues such as the NBA G-League, or in international pro leagues in the fall and winter, while using the CEBL to stay in shape and showcase their talents at a competitive level in the summer. 

DeLaurier and Sneed, who starred at the college level with the Duke Blue Devils and Kansas State Wildcats, were undoubtedly among the River Lions top players in 2021. Sneed led the team in scoring at 17.8 points per game, while DeLaurier led the way on the boards with 10.4 rebounds per game to go along with his 14.8 PPG. The team was also headlined by Canada Basketball legends Phillip and Thomas Scrubb, former first-team All-SEC member Kassius Robertson, and Brock’s own Emmanuel Owootoah. 

Other call ups have included Cat Barber, the former NC State star who suited up for the Guelph Nighthawks last summer, and Xavier Moon, the three-time CEBL MVP of the Edmonton Stingers. 

Up to this point, Moon has had the most successful stint in the NBA of the four players. Joining the Los Angeles Clippers on Dec. 27, Moon has appeared in four games for the Clips, averaging just shy of six points per game, including a 13 point debut against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Another thing that sets Moon apart from his fellow CEBL players is that he was given a second 10-day contract by the Clippers, and remains on the roster as they continue to deal with injuries. 

While these end of the bench players may seem inconsequential to the common NBA fan, it is important to remember that some players do take the road less traveled on their way to an NBA rotation, and occasionally, to NBA stardom. For example, Raptors star Fred VanVleet was an undrafted player who played just 7.9 minutes per game in his rookie year before climbing his way to the top of the rotation. 

Regardless of where these players end up, fans of the CEBL have had recognizable names to root for on the world’s biggest basketball stage, and the league is sure to draw even more NBA-level talent in summers to come as a result.