Abdi Dini, 32, attempts to dribble past teammate Adam Lancia, 33, in a open practice at the launch of the Wheelchair Basketball Canada Academy. Dini, a Paralympic gold medal winner and Scarborough local is set to train full-time at the academy.

National wheelchair basketball academy launches in Scarborough

Program to be housed at new Pan Am Centre at U of T campus

For years Canada’s best young wheelchair basketball players have been leaving the country to pursue better opportunities.

Tyler Miller, Paralympic gold medal-winner in 2012, has watched as friends and teammates departed in search of high-level training.

“I have teammates that played in collegiate systems in the United States or had to uproot their families overseas to pursue their basketball dreams,” Miller, 29, said.

The Wheelchair Basketball Canada Academy – launched Oct. 1 – aims to keep elite Canadian athletes training at home. The academy operates full-time and year-round at the University of Toronto at Scarborough (UTSC). Next summer, the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre will become the academy’s permanent home.

Miller joins a group of 14 hand-picked athletes training full-time at the academy, which will eventually support 24 players and will also act as a centralized training facility for Canada’s national wheelchair basketball teams.

“The fact that we have the best in the business here, keeping our athletes here, keeping the level of basketball so high, it’s kind of one of those things that’s just priceless,” Miller said.

Former national team head coach Michael Frogley is the director and head coach of the academy. Frogley, 47, led Team Canada to back-to-back Paralympic gold medals in 2000 and 2004 as well as a silver medal in 2008. He also played for Team Canada from 1989-1992, but lived south of the border at the same time.

“I left Canada to go down to the States because it was the place where I could combine my academic aspirations with my athletic aspirations and grow as a person,” Frogley said. “This kind of option wasn’t available. Had it been available, I would have stayed in Canada – there would be no reason to leave.”

Canada’s national wheelchair basketball teams regularly rank among the best in the world. In the past six Paralympic Games, the senior men’s and women’s teams have combined to take home eight medals, including six gold.

One central goal of the academy is to contribute to continued success in international competitions, however, the overall purpose of the academy goes far beyond matching past accomplishments, Frogley said.

“I think that’s something that’s built into the Canadian character,” Frogley said. “It’s not just about being excellent – it’s about being excellent and then finding a way to lead and make the world better.”

Frogley hopes the academy will inspire all Canadians. To that end, practices at the academy are open to anyone who calls ahead and asks to spectate.

“I hope people come out and see our athletes and see the potential that is in them – see them working for excellence each and every day and begin to ask themselves how they can be excellent,” Frogley said. “If our athletes can find new and better ways to do things, how can the average person on the street find a new and better way to do things? How can they tap into the gifts they’ve got to be the best they can be?”