At the midway point of the inaugural CEBL season, the Hamilton Honey Badgers sported a 7-3 record, and stood second in the league standings. Hamilton had just won three games in a row, including victories against strong competition like Niagara and Edmonton. Everything seemed pretty good for Head Coach and General Manager Chantal Vallée.
The Honey Badgers would lose six of their next seven games and fall to 8-9 before securing the final playoff spot with its victory August 3 in Guelph. Hamilton played solid defence during the first half of the season, with opponents averaging 96.9 points per contest. The final 10 games of the campaign saw Honey Badgers foes score 103.1 points per game. Vallée, known for her ability to adapt, made changes in the playbook and the roster sheet.
For a variety of reasons, 23 different players dressed in black and gold this season for Hamilton. Only Demetrius Denzel-Dyson, Joe Rocca, and Ricky Tarrant Jr. suited up in all 20 games. Despite new faces, Vallée was able to keep a core group of players on the same page.
The dynamic duo of Denzel-Dyson and Tarrant Jr. have been a one-two offensive punch unmatched in the league. Tarrant Jr. scored 20 or more points 11 times this season, while Triple D, as Honey Badgers fans call Denzel-Dyson, netted 20-plus points on 10 occasions. On August 3 against the Guelph Nighthawks, Denzel-Dyson dropped 31 points and Tarrant Jr. recorded 30 points, becoming the only teammates in the CEBL to score 30 or more points in the same game.
While they combined to generate nearly 40 per cent of the Honey Badgers offence this season, the two players did so in different ways.
CEBL Player of the Year award finalist Ricky Tarrant Jr. is a slasher. He finished the campaign ranked third in the league, averaging a team-high 19.1 points. Tarrant Jr. drove to the rim fearlessly, taking whatever contact that came his way, as was evident by his average of 4.8 fouls drawn per game.
Defences were forced to collapse when he put the ball on the floor, giving the Memphis alumni the option to drive and kick – where a sharpshooting Triple D stood ready to fire.
Denzel-Dyson completed the season ranked fourth in the league in scoring (18.4 ppg) and second in the CEBL with 54 three-point field goals made. Despite coming into the league known for his shooting, Denzel-Dyson also became a formidable rebounder as the season progressed. He went into a scoring slump during the month of July, so Coach Vallée challenged him to be more aggressive on the boards.
Denzel-Dyson took her advice and averaged 7.3 rebounds throughout the final 10 games of the campaign. As a result, he found his scoring touch again and averaged 24.3 points in the month of August.
On July 19, the Honey Badgers signed former NBA guard/forward Xavier Rathan-Mayes. The Canadian product joined the CEBL in historic fashion, setting the league record for points in a game during his first contest when he netted 37 points against Edmonton.
The Honey Badgers have shown flashes late in the season of being an explosive offensive threat. They set the CEBL high mark for points in a game when they defeated Guelph, 131-115, at Sleeman Centre. It was the same night when forward Sampson Carter broke the shot clock and the internet with a highlight-worthy slam dunk.
Hamilton finished the regular season with a loss to first-place Niagara, the same team they will face in the CEBL Championship Weekend semifinal. Depending on which Honey Badgers team takes to the court, it could be the end of the roller coaster for this inaugural campaign, or the ride may continue towards basketball glory.
Source: Canadian Elite Basketball League