With just under two weeks left in the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) regular season, the Hamilton Honey Badgers have weathered losing players to injuries, the pre-draft process and the NBA Summer League but are still amidst their best season yet (13-4) as a franchise and Caleb Agada’s fingerprints are all over the club.
Agada may be best known as a member of the Nigerian senior men’s national team that stunned the highly favoured U.S.A. Olympic squad 90-87 in an exhibition game prior to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics – the first time Team U.S.A. had ever lost to an African nation – but he’s quietly built a reputation as a leader and mentor in his return to the Hamilton Honey Badgers this season.
“I could talk for an hour about Caleb,” said Honey Badgers head coach Ryan Schmidt. “Talent is one thing; we all can see that when we watch him play. To be honest, he’s probably one of, if not the best leader that I’ve had the opportunity to coach.”
When Schmidt traveled to Barcelona, Spain, to take care of some business with the London Lions of the British Basketball League (BBL), where Schmidt was named head coach in July, Agada made sure his coach didn’t have anything to worry about while he was gone and gave him constant updates on practices and how players were handling coaching.
Honey Badgers Head Coach Ryan Schmidt (Photo Courtesy Shaun McLeod)
Agada, who has been with the Honey Badgers on and off since 2018, said he felt like the previous rosters he was a part of had laid the foundation of being professional and having each other’s back, and with this team, he felt like he had the opportunity to step into the leadership role.
While the Honey Badgers have had plenty of success this season, it hasn’t come easy. Christian Vital developed as a leading scorer for the team but in the process found himself with eyes on him for the NBA Draft, and he ultimately would end up participating in the recently completed NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, alongside Jeremiah Tilmon Jr., who currently leads the CEBL in field goal per centage at 66.7 per cent.
The Honey Badgers went 4-1 without their two leading scorers, and while the roster may have been split across two countries, they weren’t apart, and Agada made sure of that.
“We had our own little group chat, and we’re all tuned in to CV’s and Tilly’s NBA Summer League games,” said Agada with a smile. “We’re messaging them after their games. They’re watching our games too.”
The consistent line of communication for the Honey Badgers is always open and Agada says it’s not like that on a lot of the teams he’s been around and it’s just one of the many reasons why this squad is different.
Another reason this team is so special is the next man up mentality that the entire team has bought into. Starting with Prince Oduro battling his way through the Pro Canadian Invitational to find a spot on a CEBL roster, all the way to starting and contributing major minutes to the best team in the league in the absence of Tilmon Jr.
Koby McEwen pouring in 19.4 ppg in recent games for the Honey Badgers (Photo Courtesy Shaun McLeod)
Koby McEwen, who stepped up into the starting lineup over the last five games in the absence of Vital and has averaged 19.4 points playing alongside Agada, has recently signed a professional contract with the Norrköping Dolphins in Sweden because of his performances.
“(Agada) is a big reason why you’re seeing the emergence of Michael Okafor, Koby. These are guys he’s got his hands on every single day as well,” said Schmidt.
The Honey Badgers have two major obstacles left in their quest for the top seed in the form of two games against the Niagara River Lions, who currently sit one game back from Hamilton in the standings. Vital and Tilmon Jr. are returning to the lineup just in time for Hamilton to make the final push to secure the top spot and will be working their way back into the team over the next week to prepare them for the upcoming marquee matchups.
“It’s funny, I texted Vic Raso when I saw the schedule and said, ‘you think they’ve figured something out by putting these last few games together?’” said Schmidt. “We know it’s going to come down to those two games, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Caleb Agada (centre) has been pivotal in the Honey Badgers success (Photo Courtesy Shaun McLeod)