Founded in December, the Toundra made its first steps into The Basketball League (TBL) professional circuit on March 4th.

For the second time in two years, a new professional basketball franchise has come to Montreal. This is an encouraging situation, which testifies to both the health and the rise in popularity of this sport in Quebec.

« Let’s go, Toundra, let’s go ! »

In the bleachers of the Center Pierre-Charbonneau, the support of a thousand Montrealers for their new basketball club can already be heard, as can the screeching of shoes or the impact of the ball crossing the net. On the field, local athletes defend the colors of the metropolis in front of family, friends and supporters. And they do it well.

The Tundra, the first Canadian team to be part of The Basketball League (TBL), have won two of the first three games in their history. His adventure began on March 4, kicking off a season of 24 games spread over nearly three months, in this American minor league made up of 49 teams.

Their only loss, in Game 3, came against last year’s runners-up. Here again, the local players had led a good part of the confrontation.

“I think it’s like going on a first date and asking if the girl is going to like you,” Igor Rwigema, the team’s head coach, said smiling. You leave the meeting, you are happy because it went well. That’s kinda the feeling. »

Tickets are affordable. There is a will of the staff to offer a community product, accessible. In the audience, one can easily spot families or school groups, who are already asking players for autographs after games.

According to Igor Rwigema, the reception has been very positive so far. “A lot of people had a comparison with the Alliance. They came and they were surprised by the speed of the game, the skill of the players. He believes the caliber of the TBL is comparable to second or third division pro circuits in Europe.

The Tundra can dress 12 players per match, but has 18 names in its roster. Each of them, without exception, has passed through the metropolis at one time or another during their journey. And the majority are from there.

Juan Mendez, for his part, is happy to be able to show young athletes that it is possible to reach the professional ranks without leaving home.

“People dream, children dream. We have all been children before. What we do is make them believe in their dreams. We gave a few guys the opportunity to show what they are capable of. The important thing is that they can play pro and represent their city. »

A few weeks after the formation of the group, some leaders begin to emerge. Guard Jamal Mayali, RSEQ MVP with McGill University in 2021-22, is currently the roster’s leading scorer. Point guard Nervens Demosthene, who played with Saskatchewan and Ottawa in the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CBLE), controls the tempo well.

Center Rudolphe Joly, who has the most professional experience among the players present, was named captain. And young Kyliann Rotardier, who briefly played for Guelph in the LECB, is a prospect to watch.

Montreal native Nervens Demosthene admits to being overwhelmed with a “truly extraordinary sense of belonging” to the Tundra.

This former Montmorency College and Bishop’s University has never needed to go through the United States to become pro. “Coming from a D2 guy from Montmorency, I want to set an example for young people that anything is possible, because I’m coming out of the RSEQ,” he adds.

The playmaker reckons Tundra will be able to show their full potential after “10 or 15 games” as they build good chemistry. To do this, it will be necessary to limit turnovers and work harder on the rebound, “the little details that win basketball games”.

Another aspect: FIBA ​​regulations, which are used all over the world, provide for 10-minute quarters. The TBL, like the NBA, uses a longer format – 12-minute quarters. This gives rise to offensive matches, but which require a certain adaptation on the part of Quebecers.

“We have to manage playing time well, understand when it’s time to slow down,” explains Igor Rwigema. Yes, you can have a dynamic and fast game, but you have to manage to temper. The coaching staff and the players have realized this. This is important to have the necessary energy after 48 minutes. »

La Tundra will host the Syracuse Stallions at Center Pierre-Charbonneau twice, Friday and Sunday. She will then begin a five-week period playing exclusively on the road, until the end of April. This will be followed by seven home matches to conclude the schedule during the month of May.

The goal the players have set for themselves, as an expansion club, is first to reach the playoffs, and then to win as many home games as possible. The CEO wants to “build a winning franchise”.

“We are a fast, abrupt, tough team,” concludes Nervens Demosthene. We’re gonna put on a show, never give up, keep our arms up, go to war every game. »