Following a press conference in Brampton, Ont., last Thursday to announce the relocation of the Hamilton Honey Badgers, Canadian Elite Basketball League commissioner and co-founder Mike Morreale sent a note to team owners to summarize a seemingly endless stream of announcements he has made in the three-plus months since the league concluded its fourth season.
Two days after the Honey Badgers hoisted the trophy at Championship Weekend on Aug. 14, Morreale confirmed the Guelph Nighthawks – one of the six original teams owned and operated by the CEBL – was moving to Calgary where the team later secured independent ownership and rebranded as the Surge.
The Fraser Valley Bandits – also one of the original six teams along with the Nighthawks, Honey Badgers, Edmonton Stingers, Saskatchewan Rattlers, and Niagara River Lions – moved from Abbotsford, B.C., to Langley, B.C. prior to the 2022 season and in September completed the transformation by also securing independent ownership and rebranding as the Vancouver Bandits.
The CEBL also announced the launch of the Winnipeg Sea Bears - a locally owned team that will begin play next season.
The string of announcements also included the indefinite suspension of operations for the Newfoundland Growlers due to venue issues in St. John's.
"It has been an absolute whirlwind," Morreale told TSN. "I know at times people are like, 'What is going on?' But it's all part of the master plan. It's almost like playing chess.
"It takes a lot and thankfully everything worked out as we had hoped and anticipated and strategized it would. So, kudos to people on my team that helped us and helped me specifically make that happen."
When Morreale recently learned the Honey Badgers would be displaced from the FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton due to arena renovations, he made the decision to permanently move the team to Brampton.
Morreale says the announcement in Brampton was special as he was finally able to put a stamp on an off-season that in some ways has felt like a lifetime.
"We had a plan for how these things would all happen and the manner in which it would happen and the timing in which it would happen," Morreale said.
"It just kind of worked out that the final announcement [in Brampton] – at least for the time being – completed the circle. It was special in that regard that it was the final piece of the puzzle. I think now it's back to business. Even though that was business, it's back to maybe the normal planning of what the season will look like in 2023."
The CEBL will return for season five next May with 10 teams and the geographical balance it had always intended to create.
Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatchewan and Winnipeg will form a west division, while the Montreal Alliance, Ottawa BlackJacks, Scarborough Shooting Stars, River Lions and Honey Badgers form the east.
Morreale acknowledges "not everyone is going to be overjoyed" by the relocation of teams, but those moves, along with entering bigger markets, were made with the overall health and longevity of the CEBL in mind.
"We stand incredibly strong today from a market point of view, a divisional point of view, an ownership point of view," said Morreale. "We're just a way better league. There are some hurdles, believe me. I'm just very fortunate that we were able to do everything that we intended to do and to work out as it did. Everything else aside, I have to look at the end position and where we're going, and I feel very confident."
Morreale's busy off-season also included a stop in Edmonton in November where the CEBL and Canada Basketball co-hosted a pair of men's FIBA World Cup qualifiers.
The Canadian team, which was comprised almost entirely of players with CEBL experience, defeated Venezuela and Panama and qualified for the 2023 World Cup with a 10-0 record in the Americas zone.
Morreale was proud to witness the accomplishment.
"What really has changed the course of the senior men's national team is now you're getting the buy-in from the NBA group and you're continuing to get the buy-in from [the CEBL] group," said Morreale.
"That is necessary because once this time hits in the winter and you have these qualifier games, access to the NBA guys is basically non-existent. So, you have to rely on the group that can take time out of their schedules and come together and form a team.
"The one thing these guys really do well is play together as a team because they've been grinding it out for years together. [Thomas and Philip] Scrubb and those guys have been on that court for Canada for a long, long time. They're not the NBA guys, but they're a damn good bunch of really good team players."
Now Morreale is set to hop on a plane to Queretaro, Mexico, where he will watch the CEBL champion Honey Badgers compete in a pair of Basketball Champions League of Americas group stage games.
Morreale also revealed the Honey Badgers will get to test out their new homecourt at the CAA Centre in Brampton in February when they host the third window of group stage games for the BCLA.
Even though Morreale says he has no more major announcements to make this off-season, he also said he is many years away from kicking up his feet as he aims to make the CEBL a lasting legacy.
"I don't know if my work will ever be done," said Morreale. "I haven't really taken the opportunity to sit back and enjoy it because the work isn't done yet. I enjoy some moments here and there, but we have a lot of work to do.
"We have to continue to build this league. It's a great league. It does a lot of great things for a lot of people. So, my goal is to make sure it's around forever."