ST. BONAVENTURE — On Thursday, this floor was the stage for Pascal Siakam’s arrival game for the Toronto Raptors in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
On Nov. 16, it will serve as the dais for another unique non-conference game for the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team.
Bona will be one of six notable teams to take part in the inaugural James Naismith Classic tripleheader inside Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, home of the Raptors and Maple Leafs, in mid-November, the program announced earlier this week. The Bonnies will meet Big Ten foe Rutgers while Tennessee will take on Washington and Big 4 rival Buffalo will face off against Harvard.
The event was established to honor Naismith, recognized as the inventor of basketball, who was born in Almonte, Ontario.
“We are really excited about playing Rutgers in the Naismith Classic in Toronto,” Bona coach Mark Schmidt said. “Rutgers is an up-and-coming Power 5 team that is very well-coached. It will be a good test for us early in the year.”
The Rutgers matchup marks the 12th straight year in which Bona will play at least one power conference opponent, a streak that began with the Bonnies’ game against the Scarlet Knights in the Garden State Challenge in November 2008 (a 64-63 Bona victory in overtime in Piscataway, New Jersey).
Though no other dates have been released, it’s the sixth confirmed game on Bona’s non-conference schedule, alongside home contests with Vermont and Little 3 rival Niagara and road matchups with Canisius, Siena and Buffalo.
It’s also another opportunity for the Bonnies to play in an NBA venue and in a market that has served as valuable recruiting pipeline over the decades.
Indeed, Bona has drawn a number of noteworthy players from Toronto and the surrounding area over the years, including former standouts Barry Mungar, Norman Clarke, Rocky Llewellyn and Caswell Cyrus. Schmidt has revitalized that channel in the last 10 years, bringing in, among others, all-time great Andrew Nicholson, Matthew Wright, Chris Johnson and Nelson Kaputo.
“I think our players will be excited to play a Big Ten team in an NBA arena in culturally rich city where most of them have never been,” Schmidt said. “Over the past 20-25 years, we’ve had many great players who we recruited from the Toronto area, including (2012 first round NBA draft pick) Andrew Nicholson, who was one of our all-time best.
“I also think we’ll have strong fan support there, so all in all, this is an exciting opportunity and we are thrilled to be invited to participate.”
Though the Scarlet Knights have continued to struggle since bouncing from the Big East to the American Athletic Conference to the Big Ten in the last six years, they seem to be headed in the right direction under fourth-year coach Steve Pikiell. Rutgers, a former Atlantic 10 member, returns four of five starters from a team that went 14-17, finished 12th of 14 teams in the Big Ten and had an RPI of 146 a year ago (Bona finished with an RPI of 125).
In addition to the Naismith Classic, the Bonnies will reportedly be among the field in this year’s Basketball Hall of Fame Belfast Classic, which is expected to be moved from Belfast, Ireland, to Boca Raton, Florida, in 2019. An exempt tournament which last year was staged in late November, Bona would be one of the event’s four headliners, alongside Florida Atlantic, Illinois-Chicago and San Diego.
Tickets for the Naismith Classic went on sale to the general public on Friday at the St. Bonaventure ticket office. Fans can purchase Bona section tickets by calling (716) 375-2500. Game times and television broadcast information will be released at a later date.