Calgary Crush begins newest attempt at growing game

It’s 10 a.m. on a Saturday, as a group of players walk onto a court at the Talisman Centre in Calgary to begin their warm-ups. A faint swishing noise is heard every time they take a shot, confidence building with every basketball that goes through the hoop.

They are members of the Calgary Crush, the city’s fourth attempt at supporting a professional basketball franchise. Owner Salman Rashidian sits at the scorer’s table maintaining the scoreboard during a bevy of drills and mini-games. As he sits there he sees a group of players that may solidify basketball in the city for the first time.

“We’ve always thought about having a professional basketball team in Calgary. We just needed the right group of people,” he said. “This time around we selected people who we felt would bring positive energy to our franchise and do basketball for the community, for the love of the game.”

The Calgary Crush gear up to practice some drills at the Talisman Centre.

Photo by Pol Nikulin

The Crush is not the first team to try to settle in Calgary. The 88’s were leading the World Basketball League (WBL) in attendance, and put together a record of 151-78 in a five-year span starting in 1988.

As they were gaining steam, the WBL folded when founder Mickey Monus was involved in a scandal for defrauding his discount pharmacy chain to offset the league’s financial losses in 1992. The Calgary Outlaws emerged in 1993 but their league folded a year later. Then the Drillers came and went quietly in 2005, when the team itself folded.

For the Crush to be a successful force in Calgary, they will look to tap into the city’s basketball community, which is a growing one. Youth basketball is becoming more prominent in the city as programs like the Calgary Minor Basketball Association (CMBA), Calgary Youth Development Centre (CYDC) and the Calgary Elite program are all hitting stride.

The CMBA, which runs from the ages of 4-19, has roughly 3,500 kids participating this year according to President Wendy Parker. They moved to a new six-zone system this year, where teams choose from a deeper player pool.

“Rather than having two really good players on one team and playing with lower level players, these players can now excel, and we can have better games against all the other areas,” Parker said.

John Hegwood played for the 88’s for four years, and is now the President of Calgary Youth Development Centre and founder of Calgary Elite basketball program. He said that the level minor basketball play is increasing as more camps, travel teams and skill clinics become available to the players. Hegwood won Calgary’s Citizen of the Year award in 2009 for his work with the CYDC.

The Calgary Crush shoot some hoops at the Talisman Centre.

Photo by Pol Nikulin

While the CYDC and the CMBA are running different programs, their goal is the same: to develop Calgary’s next wave of basketball players. To do this, both Parker and Hegwood said they want the city to build a basketball centre.

“If we had a centre here somewhere that was centralized and right off the LRT tracks, it would be really awesome,” Parker said. “It would really make people stand up and take notice.”

Hegwood echoed the sentiment, adding that he wants to get a six-court facility for the CYDC so that he doesn’t have to rely on school gyms for gym time, “We do go under contract, but they don’t have to renew each year.”

With the community working internally to expand the game in the city, the Crush could help local groups by increasing basketball’s profile. Greg Smith, general manager and assistant coach of the Crush, thinks the club has a serious shot of impressing people.

“We wanted to bring something back to the City of Calgary so that people could see basketball at the highest level it has ever been (here),” he said.

“We’ve always thought about having a professional basketball team in Calgary. We just needed the right group of people.” 

-Salmam Rashidian, owner

The Crush organization is on the same page. From a player like Jermaine Campbell who grew up in Calgary playing basketball, to Rashidian who has watched the 88’s and the Drillers come and go, the motto remains: Grow the game in Calgary.

Campbell played his basketball at Bishop McNally High School, and went on to play at the University of Ottawa. He now lives in the city and helps out with the Genesis Program, another program that aims to focus “on not only skill development at the team and individual level, but also on transferring skills learned on the court to the outside world.”

All the Crush needs to succeed is a fan base, and support from the basketball community. Smith wants to eventually be able to replenish the roster with graduates from the CMBA or the CYDC, and the first step towards that is developing the players themselves.

“We are trying to start small and grow this into something that is going to be long-lasting,” he said.

Smith knows that their product is able to compete with the rest of the American Basketball Association, having won their first two games in their division, with more home games happening in late January at SAIT. He and the rest of the team have the same goal in mind: “To give Calgary something exciting to come and watch.”

As the final buzzer of practice goes off, Rashidian sits with a glimmer of hope that he and his team can make a difference in the city.

“There are a lot of kids who can’t play hockey, and can’t play football, because they don’t have the means. We are here to change that for them.”

pnikulin@cjournal.ca