A Chilliwack native will stalk the sideline for the Fraser Valley Bandits when the professional basketball team hits the court this spring.
Kyle Graves has been named an assistant coach for the fledgling Canadian Elite Basketball League team, and will work under Bandits head coach/general manager Peter Guarasci.
“I’ve worked with Peter in the past and we have a connection and a friendship,” Graves said. “When he finished playing professionally, he came back and was living in Kelowna when I was coaching at UBC-Okanagan. We played in the same men’s league, and for one season I wasn’t the biggest guy on the team.
Graves was a 16 year old when Guarasci represented Canada at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Australia. Guarasci spent eight years as a member of Canada’s national men’s basketball team.
“I looked up to him, with his experience playing overseas in Italy and playing with Steve Nash at the Olympics,” Graves said. “He was just a hard-working type of player of personality and his knowledge of basketball drew me to him. I’m always drawn to someone who has that ‘no-bs, just get to work and to win some basketball games’ attitude.”
A teacher at Sardis secondary school, Graves is perhaps the best player in the history of Sardis Falcons b-ball.
A towering big man, Graves led the Falcons to their first-ever provincial tournament appearance in 2000 and was part of a Sardis team ranked 15th in the province in 2002.
Graves went on to play at the University of the Fraser Valley, captained the Cascades for four years and led the program to a pair of B.C. Colleges Athletic Association championships. The success in those years helped pave the way for UFV to jump up to the U-Sports level.
Graves returned to UFV soon after his playing days were over as an assistant coach, and also served as an assistant coach with the UBC-Okanagan Heat.
Graves has worked hard to build up local basketball, coaching at the middle and high school level and founding the Chilliwack Basketball Club, one of the top local training programs for youth players.
He has long hoped that a Canadian pro basketball league would take flight, and laments it didn’t happen during his playing days.
“I’ve always thought back to my fifth year, and how I’d have the opportunity to push myself to train and make this team,” he said. “Back then you went to play in Europe and took a big risk of not getting a job when you came back. Now you can play pro in Canada and still work towards a future career after basketball.”
“There have been numerous attempts in the last 20 years to get a full-fledged Canadian professional league, but what really drew me to the CEBL is how professional they are. They have a plan and an amazing ownership group that makes me feel secure that this league is going to be around for a while.”
The CEBL’s structure is different.
Each team in the six-team circuit is owned by the league, which Graves views as a good for cutting out bickering between teams focused on their own self-interest.
“They’ve set out a four-year plan and it’s not just some rushed experiment that they’re hoping will last one year,” he said. “The marketing has been awesome as far as reaching out to the local basketball scene. That’s where you’re going to draw most of your fans from, so they’ve marketed in Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Langley and all the way into Vancouver to make this a truly B.C. team.”
Graves has his scouting hat on this week, helping the Bandits prepare for the first ever CEBL entry draft taking place Saturday.
Winners of the draft lottery, they’ll have the first overall pick.
“We’re looking at players in B.C., Canada and the world,” Graves said. “It’s an awesome opportunity to build some excitement and we’re pretty sure the players we pick in this draft are going to form our foundation. We’ll be bringing in about 15-20 players to training camp and we’ll make our final selections before the start of the season.
“It’s fun to scout players and watch film on players from Turkey, Russia and Germany. You realize basketball is an international sport and there are different styles of play in each country. We’re hoping to tap into that and bring an exciting brand of basketball to the Fraser Valley.”
The inaugural CEBL season will see Graves and the Bandits tipping off against the Saskatchewan Rattlers, Hamilton Honey Badgers, Niagara River Lions, Edmonton Stingers and Guelph Nitehawks.
The Bandits play their home opener May 9 at the Abbotsford Centre, hosting Guelph.
See cebl.ca for more info.