By Ian Shalapata
(WINDSOR, ON) – With regards to the worst kept secret in basketball, the Windsor Express announced today that they will be hosting an NBL Canada match to be held in the Colosseum at Caesars Windsor. In what is becoming an annual showcase event for the League, the Express will welcome the Halifax Rainmen to Windsor on January 21, with the game tipping-off at 7:30 pm.
With the Detroit skyline as a backdrop, Express President and CEO Dartis Willis made notice of the game and also informed those in attendance that there will be a charity component to the evening’s activities. In partnership with the Kidney Foundation, there will be a basketball match-up, between doctors from the United States and Canada, in order to raise donations for the charity.
“We want to make sure that we raise some funds for the Kidney Foundation in the process,” Willis said. “Again this year we want the game tied to the charity. That’s really important. Not only will we have some fun and enjoy basketball, we’ll also do that philanthropy part. We’ll make sure that we give, give, give.”
It was a star studded even in January, this year, when the London Lightning were the visitors playing at Caesars. In that game, the Express were victorious, coming out ahead 86-78 in front of 2,800 fans, who were attracted as much by the match as they were by the venue. The downtown location is just as important as the outcome.
“To play in a downtown environment is very special,” Willis explained. “I was raised in the city where I saw the Pistons play downtown and then go out to the suburbs. It’s a special entertainment venue, but more importantly because of where it’s located. Not because it’s at Caesars but because it is downtown.”
Willis described the previous experience as fun but also as, “humbling, scary, gratifying, and a special night.” For the players on the court, it was a chance to experience the atmosphere few had before known.
“It was different. The crowd was set up completely different. It was just an all around different experience,” Windsor Express guard Tony Bennett told The Square. “It was something you’d definitely tell your kids and grandkids about.”
In the first game at the Colosseum, Bennett played for the Lightning.
“I don’t recall it ever taking place in another casino, so you were being a part of history,” he said. “Just looking forward to taking part in that a second time and this time coming out with a win.”
For others, playing in front of thousands of spectators is old school.
“I played at the University of Indiana so Assembly Hall was very packed, so the floor used to shake,” Express centre DeAndre Thomas related. “And in high school we used to play at the United Centre a lot.”
But, none-the-less, it was an experience that Thomas wouldn’t want to pass up.
“It was very exciting. It was one of our biggest crowds last year. I want to do it again,” he said. “Once you get on the floor at the Colosseum it’s like a bolt of energy just shoots through your body for the whole game.”
The game was also a turning point for the Express. It was the win that got the steam up for the team.
“It was a first place game,” Thomas remembered. “We were in second place at the time, and we needed that game to go into first place, and I think that’s what started our road to the championship.”
Tickets are now on sale for the January 21 match. If last year is any indication, they are going to sell out fast.