Pro-am league aims to put Montreal on basketball map
Six-team summer loop features NBA, college players looking to stay sharp
Orlando Magic forward Khem Birch was a bit skeptical at first. He had heard about previous failed efforts to launch a professional amateur basketball league in his native Montreal.
“There have been people who have been trying to do this for a long time,” said Birch. “So, in my mind, I was just like, ‘again?’ ”
The Buckley brothers — Damian, Dwayne, Dwight and Dillon — are the brains behind Ballers Echelon, a pro-am summer basketball league that’s based in Montreal and slated to tip off on Friday at 7:15 p.m. at the Concordia University Athletic Complex at the Loyola campus.
All four Buckley brothers played basketball in Montreal while growing up. Damian and Dwayne were all-stars for Concordia, and Damian is an assistant coach for the Stingers. But it was the youngest, Dillon, who came up with the Ballers Echelon idea before getting his brothers involved.
“I came to them and I was like, ‘Listen, this is what I have in place and I think this could be something bigger than what I’m making it,’ ” Dillon said.
Launching a pro-am hoops league is difficult and the Buckleys are starting from scratch. Unlike the Toronto-based Crown League, Ballers Echelon doesn’t have any big name sponsors or partnerships. Players pay a fee to join the league and there’s the added obstacle of availability, specifically for the pro players who can only commit to a few games because of their schedules.
There are also smaller issues, such as ordering uniforms, lining up people to run the scoring tables, and staffing the canteen for food and drink sales.
“This is an everyday venture,” Damian said.
Ballers Echelon claims to be the first league of its kind in the city. It will feature professional players, including Birch and two-time NBA champion Joel Anthony, on a limited-commitment basis. Ballers Echelon will also feature other professionals — such as former Syracuse guard Kris Joseph and National Basketball League
This league is needed for provincial pride. Ontario is always the province that we talk about for basketball in this country.
of Canada star Kevin Loiselle — as well as Canadian university stars and former NCAA players.
“You want to play against the best so that you can push yourself to get better,” Loiselle said. “(Ballers Echelon) is going to help a lot.”
“In the summers, we do runs, but it’s not the same as getting this kind of competition with games and actual refs,” Stingers point guard Ricardo Monge said. “It gives you the opportunity not to lose that feel for the game during the summer.”
Six teams will play until early July. All games will take place at the John Dore Court, named after the longtime Stingers men’s basketball coach.
“In every big city across the United States and Toronto, there’s a pro-am league,” said Damian Buckley. “We don’t have one here in Montreal. We have a lot of talented players, even way back when we used to play.”
Last Sunday, the league held its inaugural draft, combine and media day at the Concordia University Athletic Complex. Coaches were on hand to scout players scrimmaging in the gymnasium before the draft took place in a conference room one floor up. Birch was the first player selected in the draft. Two of the most well-known summer leagues, outside of the NBA, are the U.S.-based Drew League and the Crown League. While NBA stars James Harden and DeMar DeRozan have made appearances in the Drew, the Crown has boasted its own star power since play began in 2015. The league has a sponsorship deal with Nike and has featured a number of top players, including Anthony, Miami Heat forward Kelly Olynyk, former No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick Anthony Bennett and Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson. Ballers Echelon commissioner Dwight Walton, a Montrealer and former Canadian international pro player, said the goal in Montreal is to reach the heights of the Crown League. “This league is needed for provincial pride,” Walton said. “Ontario is always the province that we talk about for basketball in this country.” It might take some time before Ballers Echelon reaches the status of the Crown or the Drew, but players like Birch see potential. “Basketball is getting bigger in Montreal,” said Birch, who averaged 4.2 points a game in 42 games with the Magic this season. “It’s trendy right now. Everyone wants to play basketball. The timing is perfect and I think it can only get better from now.” Ballers Echelon’s inaugural games Friday will see the Cyclone against the Wildfire at 7:15 p.m., followed by the Storm facing the Eclipse at 9 p.m. All Ballers Echelon games will be played at the Concordia University Athletic Complex at 7200 Sherbrooke St. W. On Saturday there are games on tap at 3 p.m., 5:15 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets for Friday’s games cost $5 for adults, $3 for youths ages 8 to 17. Tickets for Saturday ’s games, and for the rest of the season, cost $7 for adults and $5 for youths ages 8 to 17. Admission for children younger than 7 is free. Tickets can be purchased at the Concordia University Athletic Complex. Season membership cards, costing $50 for adults and $30 for youths ages 8 to 17, can be purchased at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dwight Buckey, left, and his brothers, Dillon, Dwayne and Damian run Ballers Echelon, a pro-am summer basketball league that tips off on Friday night at the Concordia University Athletic Complex. All four Buckley brothers played basketball in Montreal...