New basketball era dawns

The London Lighting picked Tyrone Levett, right, third overall at the National Basketball League of...

The London Lighting picked Tyrone Levett, right, third overall at the National Basketball League of Canada draft Sunday at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. With Levett is NBL president Andre Levingston. (QMI Agency/Mark O'Neill)

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:02 AM ET

TORONTO - He will either be part of history or a trivia question.

Morgan Lewis certainly hopes it's the former.

Lewis, a native of Ohio, was the first draft pick Sunday of the newly formed National Basketball League of Canada at the Rogers Centre.

The six-foot-four graduate of Findlay University of Ohio, a Division II school, was picked by the Oshawa Power.

As the announcement of the first pick drew near, Lewis was trying to send a message to the Power.

"I was thinking 'say, my name, say my name,' " Lewis said.

Once the Power did, Lewis became a part of history.

"It's a historical event and I'm happy I could be a part of it," Lewis said. "I'm just blessed I could be a part of it. I'm glad I could come out here and compete and compete in such a way that at least one team showed some interest in me."

Sunday began a new era in Canadian basketball and era that basketball fans hope will survive long enough to be remembered.

The seven teams selected a total of 21 players.

Just before the draft, about 200 players participated in a combine that allowed them to be evaluated.

Saturday the combine was for all free agent players.

Sunday was limited to Canadian players.

The first round of the draft was for the selection of free agent players while the last two rounds were limited to Canadian players although five Canadian players were among the group of free agents selected to attend the draft Sunday night.

Lewis was happy to be picked by a team that was close to his home but even though he lives just across Lake Erie, he admitted knowing very little about Canada.

"Unfortunately I don't know very much about it," he said. "I went to Niagara Falls as a kid but other than that, this is my first time up here."

The league represents that the kind of unique opportunity many of these players are looking for. While a number of the players Sunday had experience playing professionally in Europe, they jumped at the opportunity to play closer to home.

Two Toronto natives are among the players selected Tyrone Levett, the No. 3 pick overall by the London Lightning, has been playing all over Europe since he played at Alabama State in 2002.

The 31-year-old had several offers to return to Europe, but preferred to play closer to home. He was also attracted to the team because former NBA player Michael Ray Richardson is the coach.

"I was excited because coach played in the NBA. He's a great, great, player and won a couple of championships," Levett said. "That's totally me. That's what I'm looking for in a team.

"Playing here is also important because my parents are a little older and they haven't had a chance to see me play since I played in college."

The one aspect of the draft, especially the first round, was the number of experienced players available.

"The sky's the limit for this league," said Oshawa Power coach Mark Strickland. "Look at (Sunday), the number of people here, the players. This was the first year. There were 125 American players that came to try out. That's amazing."

Of the seven players selected in the first round, two Toronto natives selected: Jerome Brown went fifth overall to Saint John, while Tristan Martin was drafted seventh by Quebec.

Teams will not begin signing free-agent players to fill out their rosters.

The draft is a great public-relations opportunity for the league to get its message to the general public, but Strickland says it's more than that for a league that begins play in November.

"I expect these kids to make the team," he said, adding he doesn't enlist anyone he doesn't expect will play.

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