As we cruise into "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," as the song goes, it's certainly the most wonderful time in a number of years to be a basketball fan on Prince Edward Island.
With a professional basketball team as good as the Storm right here in Summerside, currently in second place at 5-3 (won-lost) in the National Basketball League of Canada, that might be enough.
But then look down the road to Charlottetown, where the provincial university's team is riding high atop the tough Atlantic University Sport (AUS) men’s standings at 6-0, and it's a downright embarrassment of riches.
The two worlds came together Saturday night at UPEI, when the Storm players took in the Panthers' pounding of the Acadia Axemen. Storm head coach Joe Salerno and a number of the players joined the big crowd at UPEI, while the Panther mascot was busy giving away much-sought-after Storm tickets throughout the crowd.
People will ask me fairly regularly to gauge the level of the basketball being played this season at EastLink Arena, usually wanting to compare it to what we're used to seeing in AUS play at UPEI.
It's an easy answer: the Storm plays the best basketball ever seen in this province, by a long shot.
It's a different kind of basketball, to be fair. The Storm is a professional team, stocked with some of the better players on the continent. From top to bottom of the roster, every player has more highly-developed skills than anyone we've ever seen before on the Island.
The Storm isn't the NBA, certainly, but they play a classic pro style, with a lot more emphasis on individual skills and beating one's opponent one-on-one as opposed to more team offence and defence in university.
But you can't lose by going to see either level this year on the Island. As I said, an embarrassment of riches.
"People will ask me fairly regularly to gauge the level of the basketball being played this season at EastLink Arena, usually wanting to compare it to what we're used to seeing in AUS play at UPEI." Bob Gray
Speaking of the NBA, the lockout is over and that will surely have some implications for the NBL of Canada. The Saint John Mill Rats were quite seriously rumoured to be on the verge of unveiling current San Antonio Spur Matt Bonner this weekend. Fans may remember the red-head from his days with the Toronto Raptors, but he'll be busy with his own team now that training camp is about to open.
Some other teams, already with a player or two with perhaps NBA talent, may lose those players for at least a time as they suddenly head south trying to catch on with one of the big-league teams. Roster fluctuation in the NBL of Canada is hardly over.
The Storm has a tough stretch this week. They start the first of a three-games-in-three-nights set this evening in Saint John against the Mill Rats. They then return home to host the Quebec Kebs (5-4) on Thursday at 7 p.m., and the league-leading London Lightning (7-2) on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
It will be local fans' first chance to see the much-heralded Lightning, who are reputed to be the league's strongest entry. The Storm gets no break at all – it's the opening game of the Lightning’s first visit to the Maritimes, so the tired legs might belong to the home club Friday.
Bob Gray is a freelance journalist with a long history of P.E.I. basketball reporting. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.