Regina-born Kai Williams was playing in the British Basketball League in Newcastle, England when the pandemic began. The BBL was one of the last professional sports leagues in the world to stop, he said.
“Obviously things were going south,” he told CBC Saskatchewan weekend,
“We booked our flight, gave ourselves a week to assemble the house, and then we got a notification that the borders were closing and we needed to leave early, so we had to do everything within 48 hours.”
This included checking that all of their documents were in order – his daughter and wife are British citizens, so crossing the border was “a little difficult,” he said.
Back in Saskatchewan with a basketball waiting, he didn’t know what to expect.
He contacted Rattlers general manager Barry Rawlick and ended up in the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) summer streak in St. Catharines, Ontario.
He said he always wanted to play for the Rattlers, but didn’t think it would happen because he had already signed with the BBL.
“I just thought, you know, if it happens this summer, I would definitely like to be a part of it,” he said.
“I never thought I would be given this opportunity … I have always enjoyed representing Saskatchewan.”
CEBL kicked off its 2020 season on Saturday – one of the first professional sports leagues in Canada to do so since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Saskatchewan Rattlers won my first game from Sunday’s streak against the Niagara River Lions, 96-79.
All seven teams will play in a round robin tournament and one team will be sent off at the end before they move on to elimination in a single player game.
The Rattlers are the reigning champions of Canada’s Elite Basketball League and Williams is confident the team will perform well.
“We are really coming together as a team, and I think it will make a big difference in the short tournament,” he said.
“High level basketball”
Williams said having a professional basketball team in Saskatchewan is an important development for the sport.
“It provided … a lot of opportunities for people in Saskatchewan to watch high-level basketball live, so I think that’s pretty unusual.”
Growing up in Regina, he said he never thought there could be a professional basketball team in the province.
“I would definitely like to have this team by my side when I was younger.”
He saw the sport grow year after year, so he knew the CEBL would be successful – but he did even more than he expected, he said.
“I think this is just a testament to everyone’s love for the game in the country.”
The CEBL Summer Series has begun and the championship is scheduled for August 9th. The games will be streamed live on CBC Sports and CBC Gem.