Sports

Raptors' unprecedented run inspires Richmond youth to play basketball

By Andrew Hung

Published 12:59 PDT, Wed June 5, 2019

Last Updated: 3:39 PDT, Tue July 2, 2019

As the Toronto Raptors claw their way through a historic NBA playoff run, Jessy Dhillon’s email has been flooded with inquiries from parents asking to register their children for the Richmond Youth Basketball League’s fall season.

As the Toronto Raptors claw their way through a historic NBA playoff run, Jessy Dhillon’s email has been flooded with inquiries from parents asking to register their children for the Richmond Youth Basketball League’s fall season.

“Richmond is a pretty big basketball hotbed, but with the Raptors’ success, it’s just blowing up even more,” says Dhillon, who became the RYBL league co-ordinator in 2016.

He is referring to a post-season in which the Raptors reached the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history, becoming the first Canadian team to ever reach the final round.

“The Raptors’ success is making kids want to play basketball,” says Dhillon, to the sounds of basketballs pattering in the McRoberts Secondary gym behind him.

Dhillon was in Grade 4 when the Vancouver Grizzlies began playing at General Motors Place (now known as Rogers Arena) in 1995.

“That’s when basketball started exploding,” he says.

Since then, the growing number of Canadian players in the NBA has inspired countless young people to play the sport.

“It’s given kids an opportunity, (since) people from the area are making it,” says Dhillon.

Players like Steve Nash have shown young players that everyone has a chance to reach their dreams, even those who might not be the most gifted and talented individual, he says.

“It’s more than being the tallest and most athletic kid in the gym. It involves basketball smarts, IQ, and hard work.”

For over 20 years, the Richmond Youth Basketball League has been introducing young people to the sport, and that focus has remained the same until today.

“We’re a grassroots program, so we’re inclusive and we want everybody in,” says Dhillon, who attended Matthew McNair Secondary and played on the school’s senior boys’ basketball team.

Starting with Small Ball, a program for Kindergarteners to students in Grade 3, the developmental league introduces participants to the basics of the game, eventually giving players the opportunity to play in the spring and fall leagues or on their rep teams.

While many basketball academies might focus more exclusively on the players’ statistics and potential for stardom, the Richmond Youth Basketball League takes a more holistic approach to youth basketball—to open their doors to anyone who wants to play.

The league also offers financial support and funding for families who might not have the means to enrol their kids in their programs.

But even if players don’t find the success that they were hoping for, Dhillon hopes that they will still continue in the sport.

From his experience in youth basketball, including coaching McNair’s senior team for 12 years, Dhillon observes that many teenagers drop out when they get rejected from their high school team.

“Their dreams die, and they don’t want to play basketball anymore,” he says. “But we still want them to play, so we really want to increase those numbers and let them know that the Richmond Youth Basketball League is an option.”

Dhillon would also like to expand the girls’ program in the league, which would allow them to create more teams.

Basketball is in Dhillon’s blood, and he will be pulling for the Raptors as they take on the Warriors in Game 3 on Wednesday evening.

“My heart’s going with the Raptors, but if I had money on it, I would say Golden State,” he laughs.

“I’ll go on a limb and say Raptors in 7.”

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