Place Bell NCAA event latest sign of Montreal becoming basketball hotbed

The weekend tournament in Laval, the first of its kind in Quebec, features six NCAA Division I teams.

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While no one in Montreal would suspect Canadians’ popularity to be waning, there’s no denying their interest in basketball.

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“It’s pretty clear to me that basketball has come to the fore here in our city and province,” said Dwight Walton, a former Canada national team player. “The goal of players in Quebec is no longer to play at the Canadian university level or in (NCAA) Division I. These guys want to be in the NBA now, and that’s no longer a dream. You saw people in your community come into the NBA.”

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Following an exhibition game between the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics at the Bell Center last month — the Canadiens’ injured goaltender Carey Price was among the spectators — Place Bell in Laval will host the three-day Northern Classic beginning Friday afternoon.

The non-conference event — which has never been held in the province before — features six NCAA Division I teams: UNC Greensboro, Hofstra, Stephen F. Austin, Quinnipiac, Middle Tennessee State University and Montana State.

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While neither school is in the top 25, Montana State and Quinnipiac rank first in their respective conferences. Hofstra boasts preseason wins against Princeton, Iona, George Washington and San Jose State and is led by guard Aaron Estrada. He leads the team with an average of 22.6 points per game and is ranked 12th in the country.

Unlike 2018 when the venue hosted an exhibition match between McGill and powerhouse Duke, these weekend games count towards the standings; Each school strives to qualify for the prestigious 68-team March Madness NCAA tournament early in the season. Montana State won the Big Sky tournament last season and advanced in March Madness before being eliminated in the opening round. Middle Tennessee advanced to the second round in 2017.

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“It’s March Madness in Montreal in November,” said RDS broadcaster Peter Yannopoulos, a former assistant coach at the University of Massachusetts. “This is exciting for our community and for basketball in this city. I think the fans will appreciate the level of competition and the urgency of these games.”

Quebec is slowly becoming a hotbed for NBA talent. The Raptors’ Chris Boucher was raised in Montreal and teammate Khem Birch was also born in the city. Oklahoma City’s Luguentz Dort landed a five-year, $87.5 million contract last summer, while Bennedict Mathurin, who was voted sixth overall by Indianapolis, is a potential Rookie of the Year with an average of 19.4 points per game. candidate is.

Also, in 2022, the Montreal Alliance completed its first season in Canada’s elite basketball league. Despite finishing last in the 10-team summer round, the club led the CEBL, averaging nearly 3,000 spectators at the Verdun Auditorium.

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“I think it’s great that (this tournament) has Montreal as a venue – especially when Montreal teams aren’t playing,” Alliance chief executive Joel Anthony, who is in France on business, told the Montreal Gazette on Thursday. “It’s great for the city. Having quality basketball in our city is great.

“Hockey has historically been the sport for our city,” added Anthony, a Montreal native and a two-time NBA champion with Miami. “To see that there’s been that shift — that doesn’t mean it’s taken away from hockey — means basketball continues to grow. We’ve always had a basketball culture in Montreal.”

It is expected that Evenko, the event’s promoter, will host the tournament annually.

“We have some of the most experienced and dedicated fans in the country,” said Nick Farkas, Evenko’s senior vice president. “We’re proud to offer them the opportunity to see college basketball talent at the highest level. Every year we see a growing demand for basketball. I think this is just the beginning.”

Three games are featured each day, starting at 2:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Opening tip on Sunday is 11 a.m. Reserved seats and standing room are available at www.evenko.ca

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