The city of Montreal has been tapped to host next year's Championship Weekend, the marquee event for the Canadian Elite Basketball League, giving the hometown team an automatic pass to that season's playoff bracket.
The Montreal Alliance has finished last in the CEBL in its first two seasons, yet its home games at the Verdun Auditorium are often sold out.
In recent years, local players like Bennedict Mathurin, Luguentz Dort and Chris Boucher have made their marks in the NBA, helping shine a spotlight on the city's basketball culture.
Mike Morreale, the league's commissioner, says choosing Montreal to host Championship Weekend was a no-brainer given the "palpable" support the city has shown the team.
"The fans are so close to courtside. There's the who's who of the basketball community and NBA players are sitting courtside and the DJ is doing his thing. It's just a perfect recipe for excitement," Morreale said following Wednesday's announcement.
Kemy Ossé, the first player to sign with the Montreal Alliance, relishes the opportunity to play high-pressure games in front of a home crowd.
"I'm born and raised here. I learned how to play basketball here in Parc-Extension," he said.
The Montreal Alliance will have a chance to compete for the CEBL title next season. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC)
"If I can get a chance to play in front of my family, friends, the people I grew up around here, in the playoffs, that's unbelievable."
The goal is to create a festival-like atmosphere around the championship games, with activities and events.
Annie Larouche, the president of the Montreal Alliance, said the team wants to co-ordinate with merchants on nearby Wellington Street to make the weekend as successful as possible.
"We want to show what the city is all about: diversity, traditions. We want to have the kids involved," she said.
Wednesday's announcement comes days Quebec City hosts the CEBL Clash — a game that showcases the league's top players. Quebec City could soon become the home to the province's second CEBL team.
Annie Larouche, the vice-president of basketball operations for the Montreal Alliance, says the championship events will involve local businesses. (François Sauvé/Radio-Canada)
'A hotbed for basketball'
According to Morreale, 5,000 tickets have been sold for Saturday's CEBL Clash at the Videotron Centre.
He said the league is already deep into talks regarding potentially setting up an expansion franchise in Quebec City. Saturday's event is a chance to further "kick the tires."
He says the province of Quebec is a "hotbed for basketball."
"Montreal was first on our list being the metropolitan that it is," said the league commissioner. "But we found out pretty quickly that this just expands beyond Montreal. This goes into the whole province."
Morreale didn't provide a specific timeline, but said "if everything continues to go well, that team will be ready to go as soon as possible," meaning a dream matchup during next year's Championship Weekend is not off the table.
"Imagine a final between Quebec City and Montreal at the Verdun Auditorium," said Larouche, smiling.