Breaking training: CEBL’s Sask. Rattlers cooking with coach Larry Abney at helm

Saskatchewan Rattlers head coach Larry Abney on the court during a team practice at Merlis Belsher Place. Photo taken in Saskatoon, Sask. on Friday, May 17, 2024. PHOTO BY MICHELLE BERG /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Darren Zary

Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Larry Abney and the Saskatchewan Rattlers are about to get cookin’.

When it comes to the small window for the Canadian Elite Basketball League training camps, the Rattlers’ new coach Abney can’t help but maybe feel more like a short-order cook than a true chef.

It’s such a quick turnaround from training camp, held this week at Merlis Belsher Place, to the opening tip-off quickly coming up on Wednesday.

The Rattlers will open the 2024 CEBL season at home against the powerhouse Winnipeg Sea Bears. Game-time is 7:30 p.m. at SaskTel Centre.

“It’s really a challenge, but my assistant coaches have been super good; the administration, they’ve been really good, too, in helping everything and settling down and making sure that (coaching basketball) is all that I have to focus on, so that’s been making it a lot easier,” said Abney, who is essentially on loan from the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers organization and their NBA G League affiliate Ontario Clippers.

“I’ve got guys who are really hungry to learn and get better, so it’s coming along.”

Abney is leading a new-look team with a new-look style and new head coach.

The squad includes former NBA Toronto Raptor player Jalen Harris, along with CEBL veterans Maurice Calloo and Cody John.

Back in the fold from last season are youngsters Anthony Tsegakele, Adong Makuoi, Julian Roche and Isaac Simon, while Alex Dewar returns after a one-year absence.

Abney is bringing two players from the NBA G League Clippers along for the CEBL ride: guard Elijah Harkless and forward Bryson Williams.

“I thought that was important,” pointed out Abney. “No. 1, they’re guys that I’m familiar with. Also, the season being so short and the training camp into it being so short, just having a couple of guys who are familiar with me, and style of play, that can rub off on the other guys and help us (jell) faster.”

Other new faces in camp include Emmanuel Bandoumel, Grant Basile, Sonto Dimanochie and Fareed Shittu.

“Obviously, we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Abney said of the short lead-up to the season-opener.

“Some of these teams that are coming back are bringing back their core group. We don’t have that luxury. So, we’re going to have to hang our hat on grit and being dogs. Those are the type of guys we’ve brought in. They’re picking up everything really, really fast.

“I’m super pleasantly surprised at how fast we’re picking things up, but it’s going to take a minute for the chemistry to come together and we can’t control, always, what happens on offence when shots don’t go in, but we can control our defence. I’m happy — really happy — with the effort these guys are putting in.”

What Abney likes about this group is its versatility.

“We have multiple, guys, pretty much everybody, who can play multiple positions,” stressed Abney, a Nyack, N.Y. native who has worked alongside NBA head coaches Doc Rivers and Tyronn Lue, as well as NBA players like Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and D’Andre Jordan.

“That’s going to make it a lot easier for us, especially once we get to know each other. We don’t have to stick one guy in one spot. The versatility has been really, really impressive.”

Rattlers GM Barry Rawlyk was immediately impressed with Abney’s “character, charisma and energy.”

Abney played in the NBA Summer League, NBA G League and in 12 countries overseas with stints in Australia, Europe and South America.

Now Abney’s prepared to give the Rattlers and CEBL a shot.

“That wasn’t the plan, but I got the call,” he explained. “I’m still contracted with the (NBA) Clippers but they’re gracious enough to allow me to come out and get this opportunity to grow. So that was my biggest attraction: let me go ahead and be a better coach. And this is the league in which to do it.”

So, what can fans expect from the Rattlers this season during their 20-game schedule, which includes home games next Wednesday and Saturday against Winnipeg and Montreal, respectively?

“It’s going to be fun for the fans. It’s going to be really fun for the fans because we’re going to get up and down (the floor),” promised Abney. “On defence, we’re absolutely going to be in each others’ face. Hopefully you’re not going to see me call a bunch of plays. If I’m calling too many plays, we’re doing something wrong.

“Even if you don’t understand the game entirely, you get to see that action, that running up and down action, but we’re going to do it with a purpose.”

Looks like Abney’s ready to cook with some all-purpose flour.