By Yoos, Cam on August 11, 2020.
Jermaine Small and Zac Overwater’s Canadian Elite Basketball League title with the Edmonton Stingers came with minimal fanfare.
At least judging by the empty seats they played in front of.
But when Small – the new head coach of the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns men’s basketball team – and Horns alumnus Overwater captured the second CEBL title, social media back home was all a-Twitter.
Small, Overwater and the Stingers downed the Fraser Valley Bandits 90-73 in the CEBL gold-medal game Sunday afternoon in St. Catharines, Ont, capping off over two weeks of playing in a protective bubble from the COVID-19 pandemic and the spectator-less setting it put the field of eight teams in.
Sunday’s win and the right to hoist the CEBL hardware didn’t come in front of a noisy gym, but there was ample applause coming from social media back in southern Alberta.
“Neil (Langevin, U of L athletic director) and Eoin (Colquhoun, manager of communications and operations), I had my players all message me,” said Small. “They’re excited for me to get back there and get working. Throughout the tournament I heard from them, there was lots of support coming from Horns Nation.”
On Sunday, the Stingers led 39-35 at the half before pulling away in the third quarter.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the guys,” said Small, whose team went 5-1 in the round-robin and defeated the Ottawa BlackJacks 88-75 in the semifinals on Saturday.
“We knew going into the half that we could play better. I said we were playing at 75 or 80 per cent and we can take it up another notch. I told them coming into the third quarter the first four or five minutes are instrumental. We could spar with them and keep jabbing or we can knock them out. We had a lot of different contributors today, as usual, and once we got ahead we were in control of the game.”
The championship comes after the Stingers’ disappointing ouster in the semifinals of the inaugural CEBL championship last year.
This year, seven returnees came back to finish the job.
“It’s a little bit of relief and obviously redemption,” said Small, who opened the round-robin with a loss to the Bandits before rattling off five straight wins to place first.
“They’re just happy, they’re enjoying it and they’re already talking about doing it again next year. Bringing back that core was our mission and it’s just good to see it come to fruition.”
Due to an unprecedented time amidst the pandemic, the championship came to fruition in a fan-less environment and the teams locked away.
“After a couple of days you get used to it like anything else,” said Small. “But it was different with no fans. We focused on the process more than the goal and took it day-by-day and just tried to get better. Overall, the league did a really good job of making sure everything was healthy and safe. We just made the most of it.
“We were tested a couple of days before training camp, after training camp and then just before we started playing. It was our bubble and nobody was allowed in. It was tight knit. There were gloves, masks and security guards. People couldn’t get in or get out or anything like that. The league did a good job of making sure those protocols were in place.”
A five-year Pronghorn whose last season was the 2018-19 Canada West season, Overwater completed his second year with the Stingers.
“Throughout the year and even before I got the Pronghorn’s job, Zac and I were always in conversation,” said Small. “I always wanted him back and he always wanted to be back. He and I have built a pretty strong relationship. Last year he didn’t play at all and this year he played in almost every game except one or two. He’s just so supportive and even if he’s not playing he’s such a big part of the team and the team morale.”
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