Cam Forte’s basketball career has taken him to nine countries and three continents; his latest stop is B.C., where the Arizona native is starring for the Fraser Valley Bandits.
Cam Forte is a basketball globetrotter, just not one of the ones from Harlem.
In his five years as a professional basketball player, the Arizona native has crisscrossed the planet, with stops in Chile, Dominican Republic, Hungary, Iceland, Republic of Kosovo, Taiwan, Uruguay, and — for the second time — Canada.
The 6-foot-7, 220-pound Forte was one of the first signings new coach Kyle Julius made as he reshaped the Fraser Valley Bandits roster this year. Now, after three games, the wide-bodied forward has bullied his way to the top of the scoring ranks in the Canadian Elite Basketball League.
“Leaving the house at 22 and going to go into Europe was definitely a big step, the culture is way different from anything I’ve ever experienced,” said Forte, who was born and raised in Tempe, just outside of Phoenix, Ariz.
“And I think that just helped me mature as a person and even as a player. From there just travelling to other countries and other continents, seeing the world is definitely eye-opening and puts a lot of things into perspective.”
Forte opened a lot of eyes in his team’s first three games at the Summer Series Tournament in St. Catharines, Ont. — the event is replacing the regular season for the CEBL because of COVID-19 — as he paces the league in scoring (24.3 ppg) and steals (3.0) while sitting second in rebounds (8.7).
His early success mirrors that of the Bandits (2-1), who are already halfway to last year’s win total, which saw them go 4-16 in the league’s inaugural season. They play the Hamilton Honey Badgers on Saturday (10:30 a.m. PT, CBC)
“Cam is a very talented offensive scorer, for a guy who kind of scores the same way every time. He knows how to get his,” said Julius. “He gets to his spots, makes tough shots around the basket. He scores on the block. He’s an old-school post player, kind of like Zach Randolph but without the jump shots. So it’s quite impressive for him to put up those numbers without that mix.”
The Bandits came into the tournament as an unknown quantity, with point guard Marek Klassen of Abbotsford the lone returnee from last year’s team. No one knew what to expect from them, or who would lead them.
It only took two games for the 27-year-old Forte to establish himself as the team’s force majeure, and by the time Game 3 against Ottawa on Friday, he was seeing double-teams on a frequent basis.
Julius has known about Forte’s quality for years, first attempting to recruit him to play for his Saigon Heat in 2017, but an ankle injury kept Forte from joining the Vietnamese league team. But they kept in touch, and the former George Bulldog and Portland State Vikings star wound up playing for Julius at the Jump10 tournament in Shanghai last summer, where their team won the 16-team tournament and the $200,000 first-place prize.
Forte then joined the London (Ont.) Lightning of the National Basketball League Canada (NBLC), winning a title with the same winter circuit team Julius coached to a championship in 2016-17. Forte averaged 29 ppg, 7.8 rpg and 3.8 apg on 67.5 per cent shooting with the Lightning, before heading to Uruguay to play with Club Atlético Goes, where he put up 24.2 ppg and 8.0 rpg.
In London, he was teammates with Xavier Moon, the reigning CEBL MVP with the Edmonton Stingers. Moon is second to Forte in CEBL scoring (18.8) and tied with Richmond’s Phil Scrubb atop the assist list (5.5 apg).
“I knew (the CEBL) was a new, growing league, but I didn’t know many of the players who played in it,” said Forte. “I heard great things from (Moon) about the league and I just thought it would be a good opportunity.”
So far, so good.
The Bandits lead the CEBL in scoring (92 ppg) and are second in team assists (18.7) despite Klassen being the only player to average at least four per game. Fraser Valley is also first in three-point percentage (37.2), and second in field goal percentage (46.5) and steals (9.7). The second-year squad won their first two games by double digits, then ran up against an Ottawa team desperate for a win.
Forte had a chance to win the game, his left-handed hook coming up just short on the Elam Ending, before fouling Johnny Berhanemeskel as he battled for the rebound. The Ottawa native then hit two free throws for the 78-76 BlackJacks win.
The Bandits (2-1) are now second behind Edmonton (3-1), with three games left to play. The top six teams make the playoffs, with the first and second-place finishers getting a bye.
“We’ve learned a lot, man. We came into this tournament as underdogs, and I definitely would say, top to bottom, we’re a team that has a little bit less talent than most overall,” said Julius. “But we’ve got a great group of guys. We’re tough, we play really hard. Through the first three games, I’ve learned that if we focus on ourselves and do what we’re good at, we can be tough to beat.
“(The Ottawa game), I knew it was going to be a tough one. I think we were fatigued. We really didn’t play well in the first half, we were really out of sync and didn’t execute properly. I think it was a classic case of a team that was really desperate and playing really hard versus a team that wasn’t. They flat-out outworked us, and kind of beat us at our own game.
“We have to get our fire back, and play with the same urgency we did the first two games.”
The CEBL’s bubble in St. Catharines has successfully kept the league, its players and staff COVID-19 free, even as players are allowed to leave the hotel and move around the city. But the Groundhog Day experience of practice/play/recover has still been a struggle.
“It’s been fatiguing, to say the least. It’s been really gruelling,” said Julius. “I think during a regular season, you get days between games, time to see your families, time to take your mind off the game … this is tough on the guys.
“It’s a tough grind. We’ve been here for a while. It’s the will of attrition now. It’s a mental fight, and we have to stay hungry, and stay positive.”
The Thunder Bay native knows he and his staff have to show their passion to keep his players engaged and upbeat, and are navigating uncharted waters as coaches.
“It’s a lot more art than science right now. You have to have this balance where you don’t overwork these guys, but don’t underwork them,” he said. “We have to take the right days off, and not too much time off because you don’t want them to get stagnant. It’s a tough challenge.
“I refuse to look that far ahead,” he said of the playoffs.
“We’ve built a theme around this being a six-round fight; no round is more important than the next or the last. We have to focus on these six rounds. Once we get through that … then we’ll make our adjustments and decisions.”
FRASER VALLEY BANDITS SCHEDULE/RESULTS
July 26: Fraser Valley 113, Edmonton 100
July 28: Fraser Valley 87, Saskatchewan 77
July 30: Ottawa 78, Fraser Valley 76
Saturday: Hamilton vs. Fraser Valley, 10:30 a.m. (CBC)
Sunday: Fraser Valley vs. Niagara, 1 p.m. (CBC Gem)
Wednesday: Fraser Valley vs. Guelph, 2 p.m. (CBC Gem)
Thursday: 6th Seed vs. 3rd Seed, 2 p.m. (CBC Gem)
Thursday: 5th Seed vs. 4th Seed, 4:30 p.m. (CBC Gem)
Sat., Aug. 8: Semifinal 1, 10:30 a.m. (CBC)
Sat., Aug. 8: Semifinal 2, 12:50 p.m. (CBC)
Sun., Aug. 9: Championship Game, 9 a.m. (CBC)
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