Every basket, every point, has been hard-earned for the Montreal Alliance, a team that started its second season in last place in the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL).
“It’s been up and down,” said Derrick Alston, the team’s head coach. “We started off great then we had a few injuries.”
Just when things couldn’t get worse, lead scorer Blake Francis was added to that list of injuries.
The Alliance wasn’t able to count on Francis for their last home game against the Winnipeg Sea Bears, one of the league’s best.
But everyone banded together to come out on top in a nail-biter of a game.
“I feel like that was the turn for us as a team to gel more together,” said shooting guard Ahmed Hill.
It was a turning point as the Alliance have pulled themselves out of that last place in the Eastern Conference and into the fourth spot.
The team is relying on players like Nathan Cayo, who stepped in to fill the injury gap.
The Montreal native has been serving dazzling performances and the league has noticed, eyeing him as a potential candidate for the Canadian Player of the Year award.
“I’m just trying to do what I can to win,” Cayo said.
When the season started, Cayo noted how sports blogs and commentators expected them to be the worst team in the league.
But what could’ve been a self-fulfilling prophecy is shaping up to be a Cinderella story.
“I want a little more luck than Cinderella,” Cayo answered. “I don’t know if I want to do the little midnight thing.”
That’s why they’re relying on fan support.
“The best crowd in the CEBL for sure,” Hill said when asked to describe Montreal fans.
Alston says the crowd can get so loud, he can barely hear himself think.
“And the players can’t hear me and I’m losing my voice,” he laughed, noting it was a good “problem” to have.
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The team says attendance usually hits 78 per cent at their home venue, the Verdun Auditorium.
They’ve also reached 1,000 season ticket holders.
The loud and supportive atmosphere is the boost players will need when they play their next two home games.
They’ll be crucial to guarantee their spot in the playoffs.
The Alliance face off against the Calgary Surge on Wednesday at the Verdun Auditorium.
Six more games will follow, with their next challenge back home against the Scarborough Shooting Stars on July 19.
Their last game in the regular season will take place July 28 in Niagara against the River Lions.
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