By John Matisz
The London Knights are No. 1 in Canada; University of Western Ontario Mustangs the same. Although on a vastly different scale and platform, the London Lightning hope to be in the upper echelon of its own nationwide league, the National Basketball League of Canada (NBLC).
At the club's very first intrasquad game Wednesday night (Oct. 12) at Fanshawe College, general manager Taylor Brown offered his before pre-season prediction of where London's entry in the NBLC will fit in.
"We're going to be one of the top two teams in the league," Brown said.
In front of hundreds of London and area residents, students and the like, 14 players — two of which, Tim Baines and T.J. Thompson, were cut following its conclusion — participated in a black and yellow scrimmage. The makeshift squad travels to Quebec City Friday to battle the Quebec Kebs in not only their inaugural exhibition game but the NBLC's first game, period.
Considering the National Basketball Association has announced its lockout will last a minimum of two weeks, the NBLC formed at what appears to be an opportune time.
"I think it's great for us," Brown said, "puts us in the limelight." In terms of season ticket sales, the former University of Guelph Gryphon mentioned, "it's going well, but it can always be better."
There's one family that will certainly be avid supporters of the Forest City's professional basketball franchise when its home regular season schedule begins Nov. 3 against the Halifax Rainmen.
"We're going to go to every home game," said Rob Bonney of Strathroy while watching the intrasquad game with his 13-year-old son Devon, who is responsible for naming the team.
With 18 total matches set to be played out at the John Labatt Centre between November and March, London residents will have plenty of time to experience what the NBLC has to offer. On Wednesday, Fanshawe College men's volleyball player Matt Stewart, who is actually a citizen of Australia, was impressed by the gamesmanship shown off by the players on hand.
"Obviously the alley-oop topped it off," he said of the second-quarter lob-to-dunk. "Seeing all the people here, it's cool, since it's just a try-out game. Back home it's not the same." Added Rob, "The talent is definitely there. I'm hoping it takes off."
Partly due to a league-mandated minimum of two Canadian-born players per roster, Brown and head coach Michael Ray Richardson have kept three Canucks on the constantly changing training camp roster. The Lightning released their second-round pick, University of Windsor alumnus and Canadian Isaac Kuon, previously.
London native and past Fanshawe student-athlete Pat Sewell is one-third of the remaining three. Though he is a former college player of the year in Ontario and a starter for the University of Toronto Varsity Blues after graduating from Fanshawe, Sewell, 26, is in unchartered territory. He is playing against a group of men who have competed in the NCAA as well as professional leagues.
"The caliber of ball is very high," the former South Secondary School student admitted. "My mindset is to come in, bust my butt and work hard. I've been the workhorse – going after balls, having a blast."
The crop may receive a boost in average talent as well. Brown said Lightning management have taken calls from a number of agents, including ones who are looking for tryouts for players from elite programs such as Duke University.
And while Brown confirmed the club has locked up most of its basketball operations staff for the 2011 campaign, including Fowler Kennedy as their trainers, the roster will not be set until "mid next week."
"No position is guaranteed at this point," he enforced.