The Saskatchewan Rattlers couldn’t have asked for a better time for the return of captain Malik Benlevi.
y75miwcfqoq.cloudfront.net/70c8fc80" style="position:absolute;width:1px;height:1px" referrerpolicy="no-referrer-when-downgrade"/>
“I’m getting my groove back and I’m feeling good,” said Benlevi following Wednesday’s 103-82 victory over the Vancouver Bandits. “So I’m just ready to keep playing.”
“They got a lot of trust in me starting with the GM, the president, they all believe in me. I’m going to go out there and fight for my team, so I can’t thank them enough for extending that confidence in me.”
After missing five games with a lower-body injury, the Rattlers veteran forward has helped Saskatchewan pick up a pair of key wins late in the Canadian Elite Basketball League season.
This week’s victories over the Bandits and Brampton Honey Badgers have improved the Snakes’ record to 8-10 on the season, marking four wins in their last five games.
Saskatchewan Rattlers star Justin Wright-Foreman playing at MVP level amid playoff push
Playing under 15 minutes in his return to the court Monday, Benlevi was able to step up in his second game back from injury against Vancouver posting 12 points, five rebounds and five assists.
According to interim head coach Tanner Massey, his captain’s presence alone has been noticeable.
“He’s the heart and soul of this team,” said Massey. “Being here last year gives him a lot of leeway in our locker room and he holds guys accountable, he holds himself accountable.”
That feeling extends to the rest of the Rattlers locker room, who are relishing the chance to make their playoff push with their leader back on the court.
“Malik’s our captain, he’s our leader,” said Rattlers forward Julian Roche. “He helps us ride the roller-coasters that come into a game, the highs and the lows, the runs. It’s not always the most impactful (things) on the stat sheet, but having your captain and leader just keeping everyone even-keeled.”
Benlevi’s return also paved the way for a special moment at halftime of Monday’s 86-84 victory over Brampton, as he swapped jerseys with Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive end Anthony Lanier II.
The pair grew up together in Savannah, Georgia and have seen their respective careers merge once again in Saskatchewan.
“It was a great moment for me and the city,” said Benlevi. “That’s my big brother. We went to the same high school, his mom was my math teacher. That’s my big brother, I love him.”
“I knew he was coming back out here. He was like, ‘Yeah I’m signing back.’ I was like, ‘Man, I’m signing back here too so I’ll see you out there.’”
On the brink of playoff elimination just a few weeks ago, the Rattlers have battled back with scoring coming throughout the lineup aside from CEBL leading scorer Justin Wright-Foreman with Benlevi, Trey Niemi, Quenton De Cosey, Mike Nuga and Anthony Tsegakele all stepping up with double-digit performances in points.
With their Western Conference opponents holding games in hand, however, they’ll likely need to sweep Calgary over their final two games on the schedule to qualify for the post-season.
“We want to get to the playoffs,” said Benlevi. “We know if we get to the playoffs, we’re going to be very dangerous. So our focus is like, ‘OK, we won this one, on to the next one.’”
The Rattlers hit the road to face off against the Calgary Surge on Saturday night, with their final game of the regular season coming July 28 at SaskTel Centre also against Calgary.
© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.