For the first time since their inaugural season, the Saskatchewan Rattlers are back on home court.
The Rattlers opened training camp this week as they look ahead to the start of the Canadian Elite Basketball League season on June 24.
It’s been almost two years since the team walked off the court at SaskTel Centre after winning the first CEBL championship. After playing last season in a bubble in Ontario due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to say the team is excited to be back in Saskatoon would be a huge understatement.
“It’s crazy. It feels good, to be honest. This last year and a half has been a whirlwind and what I’ve taken from that is you have to cherish everything,” second-year forward Denzell Taylor said.
“Even with this basketball thing, I’m cherishing every moment like it’s my last and I’m just happy to be back on the court.”
The 2020 CEBL Summer Series was completed in 15 days. Including the quarantine period teams were required to go through beforehand, it lasted less than a month from start to finish.
This year, things are a lot closer to normal, with a 14-game schedule plus playoffs spread out over an eight-week span.
The start date was pushed back by three weeks to account for vaccination timelines and improve the chances of fans being able to attend games, but otherwise it’s essentially back to business for the league.
“It feels good. You’ve got more time, it’s less condensed. Last year was really condensed with the schedule, it was like a one-month tournament, so now we really get to know each other, get to know how people play and really work on ourselves,” said guard Mambi Diawara, who played for the Edmonton Stingers last season.
There are still some COVID protocols in place. Players are tested daily and fans will not be in attendance for at least the Rattlers’ first two home games due to provincial restrictions on indoor gatherings.
But it’s a lot closer to normal than what the team faced in 2020.
“We’ll go back to normal a little bit, minus the restrictions and the COVID test. But just playing basketball once again, travelling, and then fans getting to see sports in Canada once again,” forward Travis Daniels said.
Daniels, a two-time CEBL all-star with the Edmonton Stingers, is one of nine new faces on the Rattlers roster this season — 11 if you include U SPORTS draft pick Alex Dewar, who was also drafted last year but did not suit up for the team, and guard Lawrence Moore, who was part of the inaugural season but did not take part in the 2020 Summer Series.
The roster also features five returning players from last year’s squad. The Rattlers can keep up to 14 players once the season begins, with a maximum of 10 on the active roster.
“Some of these guys haven’t played in a year so these guys are anxious. This is what they love to do. They’re basketball players, they want to be on the court playing, they want to be in and around the team and with each other, so just the vibe, it’s been great from the second we stepped on the court,” second-year head coach Chad Jacobson said.
Rattlers training camp runs until June 24 and then it’s time for tip-off. The team will travel to B.C. to face the Fraser Valley Bandits in their season opener on June 26 before returning to Saskatoon for their home opener June 28 against the Hamilton Honey Badgers.