The Niagara News is the community newspaper of Niagara College located in Welland and Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada. It is created and produced by the students of the Niagara College Journalism program.
By EMMA MASON Staff Writer On Saturday night, the Meridian Centre in St. Catharines was full of fans taking in a hockey game. Less than 24 hours later the ice was covered by a hardcourt and kids were having a free throw contest. The Niagara River Lions are the National Basketball League of Canada’s (NBL) newest team and St. Catharines’ first professional basketball team. It held a contest to decide its new name, and after about 700 submissions chose the Niagara River Lions after the creature on the Niagara Region’s coat of arms. “After meeting with the city and management group for the Meridian Centre, we decided to go ahead and establish this partnership. It was evident that there was no better place to call home during our inaugural season,” says Jeffrey Sotiriou, the team’s director of operations. The River Lions, who start their 40-game season after Christmas this year, join the other eight teams in the league from Brampton, Mississauga, London, Windsor, Halifax, Moncton, NB, Saint John, NB, and Charlottetown. “My fellow owners and I have been fans of NBL Canada for quite some time,” says Sotiriou. “I was a Mississauga season ticket holder when the team played out of the Hershey Centre and was very impressed by the overall quality of the talent in this league.” Leading the charge is former Brock Badgers men’s basketball coach Ken Murray, who came out of retirement to act as coach and general manager. “I decided to come out of retirement as this is the only level that I have never coached at,” says Murray. “In addition, playing in a first class facility like the Meridian Centre will be very exciting. This season poses a huge challenge to me and I love a challenge.” The former all-star player who led the university’s Badgers to two national championships in 20 seasons, holds the award for “most wins by a coach in university history.” On Sept. 14, the River Lions signed their first player. Jalen Voss, a six-foot seven-inch forward, spent last season with the Dakota Wesleyan University (DWU) Tigers, where he averaged 16.6 points per game. “I am pleased with the players we have signed to date,” says Murray. “I have decided to go with some recent graduates as opposed to veteran players. The younger players usually bring a certain level of energy and excitement to the court every day. The thing I look for most? Is the player coachable?” Asked about the calibre of play fans can expect, president and chief executive officer Richard Petko says, “We have to remember the NBA [National Basketball Association] has only 450 players, meanwhile the US College basketball system pumps out 5,000 players a year. We are getting players who at this time were not able to crack an NBA roster, but now are still pursuing their profession and their dream into our league.” “With the combination of top notch players and top notch coaches, fans can expect a breathtaking game each and every time,” says Petko. Training camp starts Dec. 1.