With less than a week to go before their first game of the 2023 Canadian Elite Basketball League season, the Saskatchewan Rattlers are a work in progress according to the team’s head coach.
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Dean Demopoulos oversaw the third day of training camp sessions at Merlis Belsher Place on Thursday morning, commenting that there’s plenty of growth that will be needed in a small increment of time before the Rattlers will be ready for game action.
“It’s a sprint but it’s so condensed,” said Demopoulos. “It’s a unique venue actually. We’re far, far away from where we want to be.”
The Rattlers are starting with a clean slate in the 2023 season after being bounced by the Scarborough Shooting Stars in CEBL quarter-finals last summer, marking a return to the post-season for the Saskatoon-based club.
Standing courtside following Thursday’s practice, Demopoulos mused the Rattlers would have probably lost by 60 points if they faced either the Ottawa BlackJacks or Brampton Honey Badgers on Wednesday evening on the first night of CEBL action.
Demopoulos further explained the work needed to reach that level.
“We have to get these guys to a point where they feel great about themselves and they’re the best version of themselves,” said Demopoulos. “And then collectively, we’re the best version of ourselves. That’s all our jobs and it’s not going to happen at one moment, it’s going to happen over time.”
Of the dozen players on Saskatchewan’s 2023 roster, just four are returning to the program in Malik Benlevi, D’Andre Bernard, Mike Nuga and Anthony Tsegakele.
That’s meant depth pieces from 2022 like Tsegakele will be leaned on by the Rattlers coaching staff for greater consistency this summer.
“I think the coaches have been holding me to that standard to be one of the guys that leads when it comes to drills or bringing the energy,” said Tsegakele. “That kind of stuff will come naturally with their help and just me coming in with energy, trying to help the news guys get acclimated whether it’s Saskatoon or stuff on the court.”
New stars have the chance to emerge alongside the Rattlers returning pieces, including incoming guard Drake Jeffries who is aiming to become a standout in Saskatchewan after a season playing the NBA’s G League against other minor-league talent.
His shooting touch from the floor will be especially key following the loss of several offensive weapons from last season including Tony Carr, Scottie Lindsey and Devonte Bandoo.
“This year in the G League I didn’t have a super big role,” said Jeffries. “I was really just catch and shoot. I’m trying to step out of my comfort zone and show people that I can do more than catch and shoot, provide scoring, things that I’m not used to doing. Things that are going to help me grow my name and help this team grow as well.”
The Rattlers will hold their final training camp session at SaskTel Centre on Tuesday, which will be open to the public, before kicking off the 2023 season at home Wednesday versus Vancouver.
Coincidentally, it’s the same city in which the Rattlers will hope to call home in August as part of the CEBL’s championship weekend.
“We want to be in Vancouver,” said Benlevi. “That’s the biggest thing, is trying to get to Vancouver. We had a team goal [Wednesday] saying we want to win a championship and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
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