Raptors victory, youth programs fuel rise of basketball, Huskies say
SASKATOON -- Basketball is becoming huge in Canada, says Kessler Bishop, a University of Saskatchewan Huskies forward from Okotoks, AB.
"I know hockey has always kind of been Canada's sport but basketball is growing ever so much and the Raptors won, so that inspired people from everywhere, all aspects of life.
"It grew a lot of awareness for basketball in our country. As the game expands more and more nets are being put up, programs are being put up and camps are run for kids, and it’s growing, it’s awesome."
Huskies players say a sense of team spirit and inspiration from the NBA have brought students to play in Saskatoon.
"I think you see it starting with a lot of younger kids growing up, aspiring to play college basketball and to play pro," said Noah Nickel, a point guard for the Huskies from Abbotsford, B.C.
"You have seen it kind of come from the States and move up here. Kids are just wanting to play down there, they want to play wherever they can now and it's a buzz around here."
Huskies men's basketball coach Barry Rawlyk said the camaraderie built in basketball lasts beyond players’ years on the court.
"Obviously you have seen the relationships players have forged through their time in the program and there's something going on here that'll stick with you once your playing days are over."
Alex Campbell, the MVP guard and captain for the Saskatchewan Rattlers, said basketball has helped him see the world.
“I don't think I would've seen western Canada, Saskatchewan, B.C., Alberta, Edmonton, a few places I've had the privilege to play. I definitely don't think I would've witnessed half of the things I've witnessed."
Campbell said the addition of the Canadian Elite Basketball League gives players the opportunity to further their game year round. The Saskatchewan Rattlers won the inaugural season of the CEBL and a seventh team is expected to join the league in 2020.
"You know coming to Saskatchewan prior to the season I didn't know much about the city itself but man we won, so I think it definitely opens basketball doors in Saskatoon and I'm looking forward to the next season,” Campbell said.
As the sport gains attention, a new basketball apparel shop is looking to hire athletes to keep them involved in the community off the court.
"I think it's growing at an incredible speed in Saskatchewan, " said Jason Sears, owner of The Loyalty. Sears opened his store on Sunday and is carrying locally designed clothing to higher end performance running shoes.
"Anything we can do to help athletes or basketball players specifically in their transition out of high school into the next things they want to do, I think that's one way that we can help Saskatoon grow as a city and help those individuals grow personally."