Niagara River Lions visit Montréal Alliance in opening weekend matchup
The Montréal Alliance and Niagara River Lions tip off their season in the opening week of Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) action on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. ET at Verdun Auditorium. The game will be available for streaming on TSN+, CEBL+ powered by BetVictor and on the CEBL Mobile app available on iOS and Android devices.
Niagara enters the season as the favourite to win the CEBL title while Montreal comes into 2023 with the longest odds, according to the CEBL’s official betting partner, BetVictor. The River Lions were ousted by the Scarborough Shooting Stars in last year’s semi-finals after finishing second in the regular season standings with a 13-7 record.
However, Niagara will start the season without CEBL MVP and Clutch Player of the Year, Khalil Ahmad. Ahmad averaged 20.7 points per game, 4.5 assists,1.9 steals and scored a league record 10 game-winners in target score time in 2022. The reigning MVP is currently playing in Israel and other players will look to fill the void.
The River Lions bring back AJ Davis Jr., Alonzo Walker, Jake Babic and 2022 CEBL Defensive Player of the Year EJ Onu from last year’s roster. Onu was an impactful rim protector for the River Lions last season, averaging a league-best 3.2 blocks to go along with 11.7 points as he went on to win the CEBL Defensive Player of the Year. Davis, a 6’9 five-year pro, averaged 12.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game while starting all 22 games for Niagara last season. Walker was also a contributor for Niagara in 2022 and averaged 8.1 points and 5.2 rebounds.
Head coach Victor Raso returns for 2023 to helm a Niagara squad that also picked up familiar faces from around the CEBL. TJ Lall joins the team after playing with the Guelph Nighthawks for two seasons as Jahvon Blair make the move from Newfoundland. Lall was an impact player for the Nighthawks last season while averaging 10.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks. Meanwhile, Blair suited up for Canada in World Cup qualifiers and scored over 20 points against both Brazil and Uruguay.
International talent also joins the River Lions’ squad for 2023 with the acquisitions of American guard Vinnie Shahid and British forward Patrick Whelan. Niagara could look to Shahid as an offensive facilitator after he averaged over 20 points per game in his first two professional seasons. Whelan played three years in Spain before returning to England for two seasons where he averaged over 13 points.
Meanwhile, the Montréal Alliance pulled together both new faces and old for 2023 in their efforts to improve on their inaugural season last year. The Alliance placed 10th in the league standings after a 4-16 regular season finish. Montréal was solid at Verdun Auditorium but struggled away from their home court. They finished 0-10 on the road and 4-6 at home in 2022.
Former NBA forward Treveon Graham will look to lead the Alliance to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in 2023. The 6’6 VCU alumnus played 180 games over four seasons in the NBA with the Charlotte Hornets, Brooklyn Nets, Minnesota Timberwolves and Atlanta Hawks. Graham has played for the Long Island Nets in the NBA G League since the 2021-22 season.
The roster features a wealth of homegrown talent as well with nine players from Quebec. Montréal natives Nathan Cayo, Alain Louis and Elijah Ifejeh all return to the Alliance from last year’s roster. Cayo provided a steady interior presence for the squad in 2022 and led the team in both total points and rebounds. Ossé scored the franchise’s first game-winner and played over 27 minutes per game, averaging over 10 points. Ifejeh averaged just under 10 points while Louis averaged 6.3 points per game.
Montréal also welcomes free agents coming from Guelph and Newfoundland. Ahmed Hill provided the Nighthawks with scoring last season, averaging 17.9 points per game. He scored a career-high 28 points against the Alliance in June. They also bring in another established scorer in former Growlers’ guard Blake Francis, who averaged over 15 points per game in eight CEBL games last season.
Behind the bench, Derrick Alston Sr. takes over as Montréal’s head coach for the 2023 season after a stint as the head coach of the Westchester Knicks, New York’s G League affiliate.
All CEBL games can also be streamed live on the league’s OTT platform, CEBL+ Powered by BetVictor and on the CEBL’s official app, CEBL Mobile, available on iOS and Android devices.
A league created by Canadians for Canadians with a mission to develop Canadian players, coaches, sports executives, and referees, the CEBL boasts the highest percentage of Canadian players of any pro league in the country with 71 percent of its 2022 rosters being Canadian. Players bring experience from the NBA, NBA G League, top international pro leagues, the Canadian National team program, and top NCAA programs as well as U SPORTS. Nine players have moved from the CEBL into the NBA following a CEBL season, and 28 CEBL players attended NBA G League training camps during October. The CEBL season runs from May through August. More information about the CEBL is available at CEBL.ca and @cebleague on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, LinkedIn, Facebook & YouTube.