When you think Eastern Commerce basketball and winning, the first thing that usually comes to mind is the boys’ team.
But the Lady Saints have been almost as dominant of late. They just don’t seem to get the same notice.
Since head coach Kareem Griffin took over the program seven years ago, reviving it after a brief hiatus, The Lady Saints have managed to win five Toronto South district titles, four city championships and two OFSAA gold medals.
The opportunity to build a program from the ground up has been a unique challenge for Griffin.
“It’s been a pretty rewarding experience,” Griffin said. “When I took over the program it was basically from nothing and now we have something here. Girls actually want to come to the school because they see the hard work the [current players] put in, how hard they go and a lot of girls see that success and want to come here to be a part of that.”
Hard work is a key to the success of the Lady Saints and that’s because of the attitude Griffin has instilled in the team.
“We’re tough as nails,” he said. “We can’t stop, we won’t stop is our philosophy on this team. We refuse to give up in any situation, whether it’s inside school, outside of school, on the basketball court, or in the classroom.”
That mentality is also a by-product of how the team practices. Eastern Commerce has a famously small gym, but, according to Griffin, that only enhances how the team trains.
“People look at the gym and think that everything just happens in the gym, but it’s how you use it,” he said. “We have a staff of six people alongside myself. Two of them do just strictly fitness and conditioning, two of us actually just do the defence and the patterns of the offence.
“We have a big man coach and a guard coach. We have different people coming in doing different things on any given day. On top of everything else, we go outside to run and we have a fairly decent weight room so the ladies can get stronger.
“The gym may be small, but it’s just how you use the gym to maximize the full potential of the team.”
Although the girls haven’t received as much attention as the boys, it doesn’t bother Griffin.
“Let us get to 30 years of making OFSAA, winning gold medals,” he said. “Then I can get upset at the fact that we aren’t getting as much attention. Right now, we have to prove that we are deserving of Nike contracts.
“We can’t just feed from what [the boys’ team does] and expect to get what they do. There’s just more of a foundation put in place on that side.”
What the boys and girls do share however, is the support of all the coaches at Eastern Commerce, something that has kept the school at the top of Toronto’s basketball scene.
“All the coaching staff, we all work together for the betterment of the kids,” Griffin said. “Everybody wants to help out everybody because we are confident that this school is the best high school program in Canada, boys and girls.”