Homegrown talent on new pro team looking to fuel Montreal’s rise as a basketball city

Hernst Laroche has many stamps in his passport.

During his eight-year professional basketball career, the Montrealer played in the Czech Republic, Tunisia, Argentina, France and Ukraine. His last stop, however, is his most expensive.

He’s home now.

Laroche will be one of the team captains of the Montreal Alliance, a team that will begin its inaugural season in the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) on Wednesday.

“It means a lot. It means I can represent my city,” Laroche said.

Kemy Ossé, 29, hasn’t played for a Montreal team since he was 15, when he moved to the United States to play basketball in high school and eventually college. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)

Ten of the 17 Alliance players are from Quebec, and that’s completely intentional.

The team wants to win, but it also wants to contribute to Montreal’s growing reputation as a basketball city.

“It’s bigger than us, you know what I mean?” said Kemy Ossé, the other captain of the Alliance team. “We are trying to put Quebec on the map.”

WATCH | Kemy Ossé explains to CBC’s Doug Gelevan what it means to play at home:

The first game in Montreal will be a “special moment”, says Kemy Ossé

Kemy Ossé, one of the captains of the Montreal Alliance professional basketball team, says he is looking forward to playing at home after more than a decade of playing outside Quebec.

“It’s personal”

The architect behind this very Quebec formation is Joel Anthony, a Montrealer who played a decade in the NBA.

The Alliance general manager won championships as a player with the Miami Heat in 2012 and 2013, star-studded teams that included Lebron James and Dwyane Wade.

According to Anthony, building a winner in his hometown “would be about as fulfilling as anything I’ve ever done.”

“It’s personal,” he said after one of his team’s practices at Verdun Auditorium, the Alliance arena in the southwest of the city.

“It means a lot to me to be able to come home and have the opportunity to really help in terms of building and adding to the basketball community in Montreal and Quebec.”

The Montreal Alliance players practice here at their local arena, the Verdun Auditorium, last Thursday. The team’s inaugural season in the Canadian Elite Basketball League begins Wednesday. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)

Homegrown talents like Chris Boucher, Luguentz Dort and Khem Birch have made their mark in the NBA. Bennedict Mathurin, also from Montreal, could be one of the top 10 players selected in the NBA Draft this year.

For Ossé, a 29-year-old guard who has played for several CEBL teams, giving the city’s youth the opportunity to see Quebec-born players on a professional basketball court near their home is the next step in growing. sports locally.

“They look at the Luguentzes, the Chris Bouchers and even the Toronto guys, they look at those guys,” Ossé said of the younger generation of basketball fans in Montreal.

“Now they can see professional basketball here with a lot of talent.”

Joel Anthony, a former NBA player, is the general manager of the Montreal Alliance. The Montrealer won two NBA championships as a member of the Miami Heat. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)

“Montreal is a basketball city”

Previous attempts to launch a professional basketball team in Montreal – the Montreal Matrix and the Montreal Jazz to name a few – failed.

However, the city’s relationship with basketball has changed significantly in recent years. That was made clear when thousands of fans took to Peel Street in downtown Montreal for outdoor watch parties during the 2019 Toronto Raptors Championship.

Before the pandemic, the Raptors also regularly traveled to Montreal to play preseason games.

“Montreal is a basketball city,” said Annie Larouche, the team’s vice president of basketball operations.

“There’s a lot of talent, local talent in Montreal and Quebec. We didn’t have a platform to showcase their talent and I think now is the time.”

The Alliance regular season kicks off next Wednesday with a road game against the Hamilton Honey Badgers. The Montreal squad will play its first home game next Sunday against the Scarborough Shooting Stars.

All tickets for the 3,500-seat auditorium are sold out for this game.

Annie Larouche, vice-president of basketball operations for the Montreal Alliance, says the time has come to have a professional team in Montreal featuring plenty of homegrown talent. (Francois Sauvé/Radio-Canada)

years away from home

Not since he was a star at Vanier College in Montreal has the 33-year-old Laroche been able to showcase his skills in front of his friends and family.

“My mum told me, ‘Finally, you’re staying home,'” he said. “Everyone was happy. Everyone posted [the news] on Instagram.”

Laroche expects about 100 people from his inner circle to attend Sunday’s home opener.

Ossé said his parents only saw him play college or pro ball a handful of times. They will also be there on Sunday.

Both players receive constant phone calls from people wanting to attend their matches. Playing at home can come with added pressure, but there are benefits too.

“I don’t cook, so I eat a bit of mom’s food every day,” Ossé said with a laugh. “It’s a blessing.”

(Radio Canada)