Building a tradition of excellence one game at a time

Eastern Commerce Saints' Tavon Ross (No. 23) completes play in Toronto City championship against Oakwood Barons on Thursday.
Eastern Commerce Saints’ Tavon Ross (No. 23) completes play in Toronto City championship against Oakwood Barons on Wednesday. (GENEREUX_BASKETBALL_PIC)

At halftime, Tevin Bailey and his teammates trailed the opposition by 18 points. He turned to his coach for direction in the dressing room and Kevin Jeffer told his team to rely on their stamina and conditioning to fight back and win.

“We run too much,” Bailey said his coach told them. “At the end of the game, we’ll be able to outrun them.”

Grade 12 student Bailey and his Eastern Commerce Saints senior boys basketball team, came out in the second half of the Toronto City championship, last Wednesday, and overcame the deficit. The Saints ended up defeating Oakwood Collegiate Barons 70 to 68 in overtime.

Coach Jeffers credited his winning ways to a tradition of punishing effort in every practice, conditioning and mastering the fundamentals of the game.

“Everyone buys into our program. Everyone leaves it out on the floor … not just the players, but also the coaches,” Jeffers said, “There is a legacy that we have to live up to. If our players didn’t put in the work … we wouldn’t be celebrating right now.”

Their Toronto City championship victory entitled the Saints to a berth at the province-wide Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSA) tournament. Since 2009, Eastern Commerce has won five Toronto championships and four OFSA championships.

With that kind of dedication and that legacy of winning, Tony McIntyre who founded the Bounce basketball development program, believes Eastern Commerce’s program should be getting national and international recognition. But, he says, getting Canadian players appropriate respect isn’t easy.

“When we started out, we would get zero respect,” he said. “No one would pay attention to us. We were just a team from Canada that wasn’t known.”

Bounce is a Brampton, Ont., based program that seeks out and develops Canadian basketball talent. According to its website, Bounce, “offers players as young as 12 a mix of development, mentorship and the promise of playing with the best in North America.”

“As time went by, we became the number one show,” McIntyre said. “People would line up to come watch us play, want to take pictures with our players and we became extremely popular. Recruitment for our players down south went through the roof.”

Bailey praised former Bounce players for being his role models. He hopes that the recent success that players, such as Andrew Wiggins and Tristan Thompson, have had in the NCAA and NBA can help him and other young Canadian basketball players gain recognition and U.S. college scholarships.

“I think those guys opened doors for all of us,” Bailey said. “By them taking the risk and heading across the border, it can only lead to good things.”

Meantime, Bailey and his teammates are focused on the job at hand – listening to his coach and winning this year’s provincial championship.

“Coach basically told us the truth. He said if we don’t go out there and take it, it’s never going to happen,” he said.