Newspaper article The Canadian Press

The Nowhere Men: Basketball Nomads Chase Dreams in Canada's Startup Pro League

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

The Nowhere Men: Basketball Nomads Chase Dreams in Canada's Startup Pro League

Article excerpt

Nowhere men: Chasing hoop dreams in Canada

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HALIFAX - Since he turned pro eight years ago, Arizona-native Gabe Freeman has gotten around: He has played in Mexico, the Philippines, and in Rochester, N.Y.

Now, the slashing, athletic forward plays for the Saint John Mill Rats of the startup National Basketball League of Canada, where eight teams in two divisions based in southern Ontario and the Maritimes struggle for recognition and ultimately survival.

"This is a grind, man," the 2011 league MVP said following a recent game against the Halifax Hurricanes.

Freeman is typical of the many players sweating it out several rungs below basketball's top tier -- good enough to play professionally, but in medium-to-small centres like Charlottetown, Saint John, N.B., and Orangeville, Ont.

It's a universe away from the elite players gathering in Toronto this weekend for the NBA All-Star game, where even the losers earned US$25,000 last year for the single game, according to the NBA collective agreement.

NBA teams have a salary cap of US$70 million this season.

In the NBL, teams have a salary cap of $150,000 per 12-man squad.

In places like London, Ont., basketball nomads like Freeman, 30, test their mettle in an effort to keep their hoop dreams alive.

"Any time you can play basketball and you are getting paid for it, you have not too much to complain about," said Halifax Hurricanes guard Cliff Clinkscales. The 31-year-old from Queens, N.Y., is playing in his third season in Canada after previous stops in the NBA Development League.

Freeman is doing his second stint in the NBL after previously playing for the London Lightning.

The action on this night featured a silky smooth performance by Freeman, who at times seemed to glide through the Hurricanes defence at will.

By game's end his 22 points was second only to the 26 scored by teammate Johnny Mayhane, whose hot shooting helped the New Brunswick club easily outdistance their division rivals.

It would be clear to any observer that these guys can play, yet the league is home to players, mostly Americans, who are destined to travel basketball's global food chain.

Many have played in leagues around the world, from southeast Asia and Europe to South America and Mexico, and for most the journey has been as distant from multi-million-dollar paydays and travel by chartered jets as you can get.

"You've really got to love this game to do what we do," said Freeman. …

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