After months of research, Express opt to join Basketball Super League

Jim Parker  •  Windsor Star

While other NBL of Canada teams jumped to the proposed Basketball Super League back in the spring, Windsor Express president and CEO Dartis Willis was not willing to simply follow suit.

Willis, who helped to bring pro basketball to Windsor in 2012, wanted to explore all options for the franchise and not simply jump blinding along for the ride.

“We’ve built something special here,” Willis said. “My concerns were we going to walk into a situation that was going to be unsustainable over the years for what our market needed. We needed a league that could expand.”

Even after the Express fell to the London Lightning in the fifth and deciding game of the final NBL of Canada final in May, Willis maintained he would take his time.

“The league itself is important, but the No. 1 goal and objective is to maintain and sustain a pro team here in Windsor,” Willis said. 

More than three months after that final game, Willis announced on Tuesday that the Express will indeed join the Basketball Super League for the 2023-24, which will start play on Dec. 26.

“One hundred per cent, we will go to the Basketball Super League,” Willis said. “We’re the last of the NBL of Canada teams to designate to go.”

Willis admits he looked at a possible move to the Canadian Elite Basketball League, which runs a summer schedule.

“I actually considered the CEBL to see if it could fit,” Willis said. “Unfortunately, they’re a summer league and it just doesn’t fit with our particular market and timing.

“To ask fans to come indoors in the summer is a stretch. We’re kind of the same here (in Windsor) as Americans when it comes to sports schedules for football, basketball, baseball and hockey.

“We did look at two other leagues, I won’t mention their names, and looked to see if we attempt to help them grow and develop.”

In the end, the Express opted to follow the Lightning, Kitchener-Waterloo Titans and Sudbury Five to the Basketball Super League, which will also feature the Newfoundland Rogues, Quebec Pioneers and Montreal Tundra along with one American-based team out of New York.

“Our Canadian partners weighed heavy on our decision,” Willis said. “We were clear we would keep basketball, but we didn’t want to rush the decision. We wanted to be sure we could provide our own feel, touch, smell to the BSL.”

Some things will remain the same for the Express. Willis said Bill Jones, who is the only head coach the club has ever known, will return to run the squad with his full coaching staff still to be decided.

However, there will be some changes for the Express, who will play an unbalanced schedule.

The biggest for fans might be that teams are not required to carry a minimum of three Canadians on the 12-man roster.

“It will be left to individual markets to determine Canadian content,” Willis said. “I think we’ve learned that fans want to see the best of the best.”

The Express will hold the league player combine in November, which will be followed by the draft. The club is still looking for a venue to host the event, which could pull as many as 400 potential players along with family, friends and representatives to the region, but has yet to secure a facility.

“The league has agreed to us hosting for five years and then revisiting it,” Willis said of the combine, which will also feature referee training. “It’s an event that will be special.”

Also key to the Express decision to jump to the Basketball Super League is that Willis has been given market exclusivity for the Detroit area, which means no team can set up in the future within a 80km radius.

“For us, it’s very important that there are no other BSL teams in Detroit market,” Willis said. “We wanted that market exclusivity.”

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