In their first two seasons, the Rattlers have experienced both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, winning the inaugural CEBL title on home court in 2019 before missing the playoffs entirely in the 2020 CEBL Summer Series, which was played in a bubble environment in St. Catharines, Ont.
Needless to say, they’re excited about the prospect of playing the 2021 campaign under more conventional circumstances.
“Really looking forward to hopefully what’s more of a normal season with a longer training camp and a longer season to get the team positioned where we want them to get to,” head coach Chad Jacobson said.
The 2020 Summer Series took place over 15 days and a combination of injury woes and the absences of several key players who either could not or chose not to go through the necessary quarantine process made it difficult for the Rattlers to build any cohesion as they finished with a 1-5 record.
“In a tournament format like the bubble last year in St. Catharines, in that kind of format, you really need everything to go right. You just don’t have the time to recover from injuries or get things figured out,” Jacobson said.
But with both Jacobson and general manager Barry Rawlyk returning for a second season in their respective roles, there’s a lot of optimism about the prospect of a quick turnaround this year.
“I think we’re in a pretty good place right now. There’s a few other things that we need to kind of solidify but the pieces are falling into place nicely at this point in time,” Rawlyk said.
With the season opener less than three months away Rawlyk has been busy assembling a roster capable of competing with the league’s best.
Several players have already signed contracts for 2021, including one of the top free CEBL free agents available in six-foot-eight forward Travis Daniels, who is joining the Rattlers after two seasons with the Edmonton Stingers in which he earned back-to-back first team all-star selections.
The Rattlers struggled to score in the paint last season and Daniels, who has averaged 15.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game in the CEBL, addresses those needs in a big way.
“He’s a multi-level player. He’s dynamic, he can rebound the basketball, he can score inside, he can step out on the perimeter, the three-point line, he can score from there. (He) runs up and down, he defends…I think that’s something that perhaps we were lacking at the forward position last year and he fills that niche nicely,” Rawlyk said.
Saskatchewan has also confirmed the returns of guards Kemy Osse and Negus Webster-Chan, who combined for more than 26 points per game in 2020. Osse will be playing his second season with the Rattlers while Webster-Chan has been with the team since day one, when he scored the first points in CEBL history.
“Negus struggled a bit last year with injuries and we recognize his talent. When he’s healthy his ability to score the basketball is unparalleled in the league. He can really shoot it,” Rawlyk said.
In a league that is still trying to establish itself and build its fanbase, having familiar faces play multiple seasons on the same team certainly doesn’t hurt.
“Negus is a leader, you know he was here for the first championship run and having a guy like that back on your roster is really, really important,” Jacobson said.
Other players who have already signed for 2021 include forwards Nick Madray and Denzell Taylor, the latter of whom is returning for a second season with the team.
The Rattlers would also like to re-sign 2020 CEBL Rookie of the Year finalist Rashawn Browne for a second season, however his status remains up in the air.
In the meantime, the team expects to announce several more signings in the coming weeks.
“We’ve done some good work here in the off-season in terms of building a roster for this upcoming year and we feel like we’re in a position to be very competitive and very entertaining,” Rawlyk said.
While championships aren’t won in the off-season, the Rattlers are doing everything they can to put themselves back in the conversation.