Toronto should be a hot spot for young basketball talent.
The city possesses demographics that match the NBA – populations of African, Eastern European, and Asian descent.
It’s the few top-notch high school and post-secondary programs developing the sport across the GTA that force local athletes down south.
The Hoop Factory basketball camp tries to take players to the next level, and instil professional training at home, before they make that leap.
“We bring kids into camp and we teach them about basketball, but also we teach them life skills,” says Waleed Belcher, 2010 camp manager.
“Most importantly is attitude, we try to change their attitudes. They come in raw and leave polished kids. Good citizens with character.”
Now in its sixth year, The Hoop Factory is an annual training and development camp for boys and girls aged 12-17, taking place at local high schools across the city (including Monarch Park C.I, Eastern Commerce, and Jarvis St.)
It runs for six weekly sessions during the summer (July 6-August 21), and most recently there was a March break session added to this list.
The camp was originally founded by one of Toronto’s most successful basketball players, Vidal Massiah.
Massiah, who played NCAA ball and graduated from St. Bonaventure University, is a former captain of Canada’s national team, and international professional having played in New Zealand, Portugal and Germany.
In a Business Feature by Jeff Roulston, of TOstateofmind.com last fall, Massiah explained how NCAA coaches noticed a difference in the athletes coming from the GTA.
“Coaches tell me that our kids don’t know how to play without the ball,” Massiah said.
“The players from Toronto that make it to that level have been playing with the same group of guys in the same age group since junior high, so they’ve always been given the ball and told to score. They don’t play defence, pass or run the floor, so they’re lost on a college team.”
The Hoop Factory was born to eliminate this problem, and promote well-rounded home-grown talent.
In particular, the camp targets at-risk youth, and offers an affordable opportunity to kids with a serious interest in basketball that might not be exposed to elite training methods otherwise.
For only $250 a session, participants are taken off the streets, and provided a rewarding summer outlet.
Massiah’s training team uses state-of –the-art-equipment like Vertimax resistance machines, a rapid-fire shooting machine to allow players to repeat their shot quickly, as well as weighted basketballs to improve arm strength.
It’s a mixture of fundamentals and conditioning drills, with instructors providing hands-on training. A key is the amount of one-on-one time each participant recieves, as each session is limited to 30 participants split into squads based on age and skill level.
Nathaniel Caesar, 17, is a perfect example of progression at the camp, having attended for three straight summers. Now in his final year of high school, the grade 12 feels he is ready for a future in basketball.
“[The Hoop Factory] really helps me with my lateral quickness. Also, my shooting got a lot better when I started coming here,” said Caesar.
“It helps me take my game to a next level. “I want to go play in the Europe league or get a scholarship to any university program I can.”
Caesar is not the only young talent to benefit from the camp. Some other Hoop Factory participants have been making names for themselves recently as well.
Kevin Pangos, a Grade 12 guard at Dr. Dennison Sec. School in Newmarket was most recently named the top point guard in the country.
Anthony Bennett, another alumnus has recently taken his game to Mountain State Academy, a top American high school basketball program in West Virginia.
Finally, Myck Kabongo was one of the original members of the camp, along with his older sister Vanessa.
Myck is in his final year playing with Findlay Prep, in Las Vegas, Neveda. He was recently placed in the top 10 high school point guards, and top 25 high school players categories by USA Today, and has already made a verbal commitment to playing his college ball at the University of Texas.
Vanessa his sister took what she learned from camp to the NCAA playing at University of Delaware. She now returns every summer to give back to the next generation of stars, serving as a councillor at the Hoop Factory.
“Our goal is just to keep them focused, and a lot of the time you’ll see us stop everything and bring it in to a huddle, just to get that focus back to why they’re here. They’re here to become better basketball players,” said Kabongo.
“Sometimes I have to yell at a couple kids, but they know me. They respond a little funny, some get upset, but in the end they understand I’m here to make them better.”
For more information on the camp, visit www.thehoopfactory.com or call 416-451-1054.