Sea Bears ready to roar
Local hoops squad to debut in front of record-setting crowd
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The Winnipeg Sea Bears are newcomers to the local sports landscape, but the fledgling Canadian Elite Basketball League franchise is guaranteed to make history even before the first three-pointer is scored.
As of Friday afternoon, the franchise had sold more than 6,700 tickets for its home debut against the Vancouver Bandits at Canada Life Centre Saturday night (7 p.m. tip-off), which will establish a league single-game attendance record eclipsing the previous mark of 4,404 set by the Bandits on June 18, 2022.
The promise of a large crowd doesn’t faze Sea Bears point guard Glen Yang.
“At this point, I enjoy those kinds of atmospheres,” said Yang, who played the winter season with Hong Kong-based Bay Area Dragons of the Phillipine Basketball Association. “I played in front of 54,000 in the Philippines in our Game 7 of the finals, which was insane.”
Yang and the Dragons lost that Game 7 but after stints in Spain and China, he’s adapting quickly to the Sea Bears practice home at the Sport for Life Building and he relishes the opportunity to help introduce the CEBL brand to Winnipeg fans at CLC.
“Any big crowd, we know the energy is gonna be amazing in this stadium,” said Yang. “We’ve been in there a few times — it’s real nice.”
Born in Vancouver and raised from the age of five until 15 in Hong Kong, Yang played at Mount Royal University in Calgary before embarking on a pro career.
“I’ve been to a couple different spots so far,” he said. “I feel like I’m getting better at adapting for sure to new environments, different countries, different cultures. Coming to Winnipeg has been definitely one of the easier ones.”
Sea Bears GM and head coach Mike Taylor has been tasked with turning that early attention into a long-term success story.
“I think what we’re seeing is the potential for Winnipeg to be a great market in the CEBL the reaction — for 6,000-7000 tickets to be sold for the opening game — it’s a historic moment,” said Taylor. “We’re starting as a record-breaking franchise for attendance. It’s a testament to what (owner) David Asper and (president) Jason Smith and the organization have done and now we want to try to establish a great foundation for this organization here in the city.”
Taylor, who unveiled a 10-man roster for opening night including veteran pro Chad Postumus and University of Manitoba star Simon Hildebrandt, said the calibre of basketball in the CEBL is crowd pleasing.
“I think people will love the CEBL style of play,” said Taylor. “They’ll be impressed with the level. It is definitely a downhill league with athletes trying to get to the rim and attacking the rim. We’ve got some of the bigger bodies in the league with Chad (Posthumus) and some of our front-court players, so we’ll try to play to our strengths.”
Hildebrandt has done his best to absorb the nuances of the pro game and he’s come away impressed with Taylor’s knowledge and acumen.
“Oh, it’s crazy — just all the detail,” said Hildebrandt. “Every single play we have is right down to every possible little detail. That kind of shows that he’s been around and run these plays before. He knows exactly what needs to happen for it to work.”
Expansion teams are bound to struggle early, but Taylor is confident he can develop a winning program to compete with the CEBL’s more established franchises.
“The guys have worked extremely hard and training camp and I’m really pleased with the progress we’ve made,” said Taylor. “And then you get a chance to test yourself against a really good team in the league for the opening game. And I think everybody’s really excited about the history-making first game.”
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.