TORONTO — Mike Morreale says as of late Thursday evening, there were "thousands and thousands and thousands" of people on the waiting list to buy tickets for the Scarborough Shooting Stars inaugural season.
The Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) team had just announced it had signed Jermaine Cole — better known as J. Cole, an American rapper and Grammy winner.
"(Thursday) night at one point, there were about 3,200 people in line just to buy a ticket. It was insanity," said Morreale, the CEO of the CEBL, which tips off its fourth season on Wednesday. "I expected some buzz, I didn’t expect the landslide, but it’s great for what we’re trying to do."
While Cole, a six-foot-three guard, is scheduled to spend much of the summer on the road touring with his day job, Morreale said his basketball signing was legit.
Morreale insisted the signing isn't similar to stunts involving Canadian pop star Justin Bieber, who was offered a contract by the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL in 2012, plus joined a FC Barcelona practice with the likes of Neymar and Lionel Messi in 2016.
"This is not a 'Hey, we need a buzz, let’s sign Jermaine Cole,'" Morreale said. "This is just natural, we just happen to have a partner that has a relationship (with Cole) and this guy has a goal in mind."
The Shooting Stars are part-owned by Niko Carino, one of the co-founders of Drake's label OVO (October's Very Own).
Drake posted Cole's signing on his Instagram on Thursday night.
Cole played with the Rwanda Patriots in the Basketball Africa League last year, but averaged just 1.7 points and 1.7 rebounds in a little over 15 minutes per game over three contests before leaving due to what he said was a family obligation. He also played high school basketball and was a walk-on at St. John's University, but never played, instead pursuing his music career.
"There's a desire on (Cole's) end to play basketball, the opportunity is there, he had attempted it last year, and I think he feels more comfortable under this situation, and obviously surrounded by people that he trusts," Morreale said. "More importantly is the way he's approaching it. He's going to have to make the team and he's going to have to prove himself and that is his MO. He wants to be treated like any other basketball player."
The Shooting Stars play their first-ever game on Thursday in Guelph, and Cole would only be able to play three games before his first tour opens June 10.
Morreale said he's not concerned with Cole's musical conflicts, noting the league allows other players come and go for commitments such as playing for the national team or in the NBA Summer League.
"This is no different, this is more high profile, but it was done all for the right reasons," Morreale said. "He's not coming here to entertain us beyond (basketball), and just from my time, my experience with him, I am really excited about what he can bring."
Cole won a Grammy in 2020 for Best Rap Song ("A Lot'' by 21 Savage featuring J. Cole) and has nine BET Hip Hop Awards. He also has six platinum albums and has produced songs for artists like Kendrick Lamar, Janet Jackson and Young Thug.
His most recent album, "The Off-Season," was released a year ago.
The CEBL grew from seven to 10 teams this season, with the addition of the Shooting Stars, the Montreal Alliance and the Newfoundland Growlers.
The Stars' staff, meanwhile, includes former NBA all-star Jamaal Magloire, who is the team's vice-president and senior adviser. Former national team player Brady Heslip is the club's general manager.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2022.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press