Catching up with the CEBL’s Mike Morreale, talking past, present and future of the Ottawa Blackjacks, and thoughts on Paul LaPolice’s move to Ottawa

Just in the October of 2017, the CEBL came about in Canadian sports. Started up by former CFL star Mike Morreale, the league was found to be in good hands and this was not mistaken. After 2 years of planning, May 2nd 2019 was the official launch date of the newest Canadian Basketball league. The league took off with 6 teams, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Abbotsford, Niagara, Hamilton, and Guelph. The six teams all started off with sponsors from New Era, Spalding and Fox 40.

With help from 3 big sponsors, the league was off to a great start. The one thing and/or factor that came to play with it’s early success is how local it is. It is one of the only Canadian owned leagues, and with that title Morreale and the rest of the people among the front office made sure that the league will stay local and Canadian. The front offices created a rule, in which each team participating has to have 70% of their team as Canadians. This rule helps open positions towards younger Basketball players and fans as they can watch some local talent play at the professional level.

After one year of existence, the league’s Canadian ratio rule helped their branding so much that they brought in CBC Sports, one of the most watched television channels in Canada to televise the CEBL this coming season. Along with the broadcasting announcement, CBC was also informed that they will be televising games from a new CEBL team located in the capital of Canada named the Ottawa Blackjacks.

This November, Mike Morreale came to Ottawa with his partners at the CEBL and announced the coming of the newest basketball team to make its way to Ottawa.

Who is Mike Morreale?

All this talking about Mike Morreale, and many are still unaware of who exactly he is. Mike Morreale is a former CFL wide receiver who found himself playing 12 seasons in the CFL for both the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Toronto Argonauts.

In the time he spent in the CFL, he won two grey cups and took home the most outstanding Canadian player of the year 1998. To be able to get the awards and championships he did in his career, Morreale came into the league firing off all cylinders. Mike Morreale caught a total of 609 passes for 6649 yards and 24 touchdowns.

After his time in the CFL, Morreale took charge as the CFLPA’s president and the offensive and special teams quality control coach of the McMaster Marauders.

One on one interview with Morreale

Zlomislic: This past May, you started up the CEBL, what made you want to help start this up?

Morreale: “I’ve always been interested in the business part of sports, mostly on the football side of things, but after meeting with Richard Petko we both figured out how to put together a business case of sports by starting up a sporting league. That was the grand reason behind it, and we thought that the talent level would be great considering how well other leagues and teams have done in our country. A Canadian Basketball league seemed to be lacking, and it was something we wanted to act on.”

Zlomislic: As one that spent most of your time in football, you decided to start a basketball league, why basketball?

Morreale: “I always had something with basketball, and its just another great sport we have the ability to play and watch. I thought it was a great opportunity at the time and I truly believe that the fan bases here in Canada will help the outcomes of the league.”

Zlomislic: The CEBL is now one year into existence and about to take action to year 2, how would you describe the first season?

Morreale: “I’ve been really impressed by how year one went, it certainly took a few years to plan out how things will go in the background of the games played and I think that really paid off last year for our final product. I look forward to year 2, because we will be better considering we are more experienced and with the new deals in Ottawa and CBC it will be exciting to see!”

Zlomislic: This past season, the league only had 6 teams, now the league consists of 7 teams with the addition of the Ottawa Blackjacks, what made you put Ottawa to the mix?

Morreale: “Ottawa is a market we’ve been looking at for some time. It was considered to be a team when we first started but we never really acted on it due to the problems we may face behind the scenes like the distance between the league offices in Toronto to Ottawa. Now as we have our inaugural season behind us, those factors have slowly diminished and helped us decide to come to Ottawa. The fact that Ottawa is a big market and the capital of the nation there isn’t too many reasons not to be excited about a team coming to Ottawa.

Zlomislic: What excites you the most about Ottawa’s new team?

Morreale: “Well after doing research during the transition to having a team in Ottawa, it was looked at to say Ottawa is a big basketball city. Whether it’s Ottawa U or Carleton, there’s always a team succeeding and fans in Ottawa are always supportive of success, and when there is a professional market in Ottawa, it will create traffic in the basketball market.”

Zlomislic: Ottawa has had a few basketball opportunities in the past but haven’t been able to run with it and succeed, what can Ottawa sports fans expect from the Blackjacks?

Morreale: “On the court, the Ottawa Blackjacks will be tremendous. I’ve spoke to the pottential GM in Ottawa and he is excited about the talent he has in the books and believes they will be a good contender in the league. Ottawa is a winning market which wants to see a winner fast and with the talent it is given there shouldn’t be a problem getting entertaining basketball. The teams that came in before came with good intentions, although I’m not sure they were set up for the success we are.”

Zlomislic: Along with the Ottawa Blackjacks announcement, the CEBL came about another big announcement this past month which the league landed CBC Sports to broadcast games, can you tell me about this?

Morreale: “This move was huge for us and basketball in general. Hockey has always been a big thing in Canada because of the airing time it gets compared to other sports and looking at other channels it looks like CBC is one of the most viewed programs and if we were to have our games on there it will be a big thing for the league and Canada’s future in basketball.”

Zlomislic: To pair with Ottawa’s new basketball team is the Ottawa Redblacks, who named Paul LaPolice as the coach just last week. As one who played multiple seasons in the CFL and have crossed paths with LaPolice, what can you say about this move?

Morreale: Absoloutley, LaPo was my receivers coach in Hamilton in around 2004. This I believe is a great hire by the Redblacks. The team has had a lot of success and following the tough season last year, to bring him in was huge this offseason. Paul LaPolice is a tremendous person, he understands the game, and he’s able to do so much with the ball and he deserves a spot as ahead coach and Ottawa is a great place for him and his future.

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