Youth basketball ready for boom from Raptors’ success

The Toronto Raptors’ championship run has put a bounce in local basketball programs.

Daniel Depelteau, the executive director of the boys’ elite program at Excel Basketball in Coquitlam, said the Raptors’ NBA championship has created a buzz. Traffic on his program’s website went up 15% in the immediate aftermath and registrations for summer programs have spiked. 

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He said while Excel doesn’t normally offer its Jr. NBA program for kids in kindergarten to Grade 2 in the summer months, there was enough demand this summer to nearly fill three such camps.

“The Raptors' win is playing a part in this,” Depelteau said.

Ross Tomlinson, the executive director of Tri-City Youth Basketball Association (TCYBA) and a hoops coach since 1977, said the Raptors have likely had such a big impact because so many kids are now plugged into social media.

“You can’t go an hour without seeing basketball,” he said. “Our whole world has shrunk.”

TCYBA’s president,Todd Purves, added, “Kids want to be connected to their sports heroes.”

That’s creating opportunities for local programs to introduce the sport to more kids.

Lawrie Johns, the executive director of Basketball BC, said the brief run in the NBA of the Vancouver Grizzlies, and the ascent of Victoria’s Steve Nash to superstar status in the league, helped propel participation in Basketball BC’s youth programs from a few hundred kids to more than 7,000 currently. He said opportunities to play the sport and get an education at U.S. and Canadian universities and colleges have also been an important factor.

Zach Hamed is preparing to head to one of those post-secondary programs at the University of Victoria. The Heritage Woods secondary grad said he started playing basketball as a gym rat shooting hoops because “it was just something to do besides hockey and lacrosse.” 

As Hamed grew taller than his buddies, he devoted more of his time and energy to basketball, including playing for his high school team. He said even the rigours of daily practice, games and tournaments couldn’t diminish his joy for the sport’s simplicity and inclusiveness.

“You appreciate the game more,” Hamed said, adding he’s just as inclined to pick up a ball and shoot hoops during downtime because that’s what brings him the most joy.

Kids’ newfound connection to hoops is playing out in school yards, cul-de-sacs and gyms every day. Instead of calling out names like Crosby, Pettersson and Price as they chase a hard orange plastic ball with hockey sticks in hand, they’re calling Kawhi, Kyle and Curry while driving the baseline

That’s music, like the sound of rubber shoe soles squeaking on a polished hardwood floor, to the ears of those trying to grow the sport in B.C.

“We have to make sure every kid gets that opportunity,” Purves said.

But that also puts pressure on the people running basketball in this province to ensure the level of coaching keeps pace. As well, programs must be designed so they can address the needs of kids with the desire and inclination to take their game to an elite level while still giving kids new to the game the chance to learn its fundamentals, refine their skills and channel their newfound passion into healthy activity without college and pro sports goals.

“One doesn’t have to be sacrificed for the other,” said Purves, whose TCYBA recently aligned itself with NBA Canada to leverage its brand recognition and to ensure a consistent development model for kids learning the game with resources like online training clinics and access to top-level national, collegiate and pro coaches for guidance.

“It is absolutely paramount that coaches are properly trained and certified,” Basketball BC’s Johns said. “Fun must be a priority.”

• There are several youth basketball programs available in the Tri-Cities, including TCYBA (www.tcyba.org), Excel Basketball (www.excelbasketball.com), and TC North Basketball Academy (www.tcnorthbasketball.com).

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