For Usman Jutt, the story of the Calgary Surge goes beyond simply starting Calgary’s newest professional sport team, and a story that goes beyond a monumental first year that has led the team into a playoff run.
For him, it is a story that has yet to be told—an unfinished story that comes this weekend in Vancouver, regardless of how the CEBL Western Conference playoffs go, will come to a chapter close for the 2023 season, but picks right up for a second the day after.
“The story that is yet to be told is the story of how we’ve been able to inspire the thousands of kids that watch them every single day,” said Jutt.
“This was not a team that was in existence last year but yet we find ourselves in first place. We find ourselves on the cusp of a West final versus a fairly worthy adversary, and I hope and I know our team is going to play their heart out,” Jutt said.
Until February of this year, the Surge did not have a general manager. Nor a head coach until March.
Jutt reflected on how that all came together for the first game of the season against the Edmonton Stingers.
“I remember the nerves for me for the first game, and I kept looking back at the team and saying, do we know what we’re doing? We’ve not done this before. We’ve sold a bunch of tickets. We’ve got a bunch of people here. Is this gonna work?” He recalled thinking.
“Look at where we are today. Like an incredible, incredible blessing for me to be able to lead a team—the one that we’ve kind of put together not just on the court, but off the court.
“I think it’s the sum of all those parts, that we find ourselves in the in the in the envy of a lot of teams today. But that job is not done yet.”
Taking it to Vancouver, and back
The team, said Jutt, is taking it one game at a time. Which is a message that echoes the one put forward by head coach Nelson Terroba.
“Right now, the focus is on ourselves. Always,” said Terroba on August 6, after the Surge clinched their Western Conference championship spot for Friday.
“We talked about the opponent being nameless and faceless. So that’s what we’re focused on, just taking care of our business.”
Although those opponents might be back of mind for the players and coaching staff, Jutt said that the management team has taken inspiration from, and hopefully provided some inspiration to the other teams when it comes to matters off the court.
“We’ve seen a tremendous amount of inspiration that we’ve been able to give out, particularly in the way I think that we’ve connected with community. That was a mandate from day one,” he said.
“And as much as I think hopefully they’ve learned from us, we’ve learned even more from them. The league’s five years old—it’s not an old league—but we’ve been able to learn from Brampton, Scarborough, Winnipeg, and Edmonton. I think the collective benefit to Canada is yet to be told on what the CEBL is going to be able to do.”
He said that the Surge was going to play hard in Vancouver, and hopefully come back with a victory.
“And you know what, we’re going to bring that trophy right back here.”
Building the sport of basketball in Calgary, win or lose
Jutt spoke about his first meeting with the players that would form up the inaugural Calgary Surge team. Meeting them at the MNP Centre, where the team practices, he said many of them had come to Calgary for the first time in their lives.
“Some of them might not have even heard of Calgary. As we were able to connect with them, I said ‘You’re going to spend four months here, you may never come back, but these are going to be four months that you’ll remember for the rest of your life,'” he said.
“You will see hospitality at its finest in Calgary. You will make friends here that will remain lifelong friends and a story that we’ve been able to connect with so many times over and over again, in a city that sometimes we start taking for granted because we live here.”
Not every player has remained with the team though. Part of the CEBL’s mandate is to grow Canadian players and to give them opportunities to move to other leagues.
Surge forward Simi Shittu, who led the league in rebounds, was one of those players that was signed by one of France’s top basketball teams, in their top-level league.
Jutt said that even though Shittu had departed for that league, the connection to his teammates remains.
“We spoke to him a few days ago, and he’s sitting there tuned in, watching, cheering on his former teammates,” Jutt said.
“Hopefully we’re able to make him proud with a win on Sunday and bring it back here.”
The Calgary Surge take on the Vancouver Bandits on Friday, August 11, at 8:30 p.m. in the Western Conference Championship.
The winner of that game will play in the CEBL Championship game on Sunday, August 13, at 5 p.m.