Nunavut basketball coach sees a strong future for program

Loss to B.C. doesn't sway Sunday Thomas from bright view of sports growth in territory

Team British Columbia defeated Team Nunavut in under-19 Men’s basketball action at the North American Indigenous Games on Tuesday afternoon.

It was a one-sided affair, as the defending gold medalists cruised to a 91-42 victory.

But Nunavut head coach Sunday Thomas was not disheartened by the loss.

“I always tell my players ‘respect all opponents but don’t fear them,’ ” he said. “We came into this game believing we could do something special – B.C.’s a strong team – but we feel we can match up with any other team in our pool.”

If there was a David versus Goliath match at this year’s tournament this would be it. In 2014 the three men’s basketball teams from B.C. won gold in the U-19, silver in U-16, and bronze in U-14 – Nunavut earned no medals.

The Territory had only one men’s basketball team at the Regina Games, with players ranging from 14-19 years of age. But coach Thomas believes the growth of the sport in Canada’s most northern territory is on the rise.

“We run a major tournament every March and we host about 200 kids from across (Nunavut) and it just keeps growing,” he said. “Basketball is growing exponentially in our Territory and you’re going to see us more at these Games.”

Thomas believes in his 2017 team, which features his son Christian.

“We have quite a few experienced players who have played for NAIG in 2014, we’ve had a couple that played (in the) Western Summer Games and the Arctic Winter Games.”

One of those players was his son, who was one of the youngest players in the U-19 tournament.

“He was one of the younger members (in 2014). He was 14 and now he’s 17,” the coach said. “ Now he’s one of the leaders on the team.”

Christian Thomas takes shots during warm ups prior to Nunavuts’ game against Team B.C. which they would go on to lose 91-42 at the Tait Mackenzie Centre Tuesday afternoon at York University in Toronto. (David Morassutti)

The team from Canada’s least populated territory held its own three years ago, going 1-2 in three games. They opened the tournament with a crushing 100-39 loss to B.C., before winning 80-75 versus Florida, but lost to Saskatchewan in the quarter finals.

The players that make up the 2017 Nunavummiut U-19 men’s squad come from five communities across the territory.

“It’s one combined team, we have players from Pond Inlet, Cambridge Bay, Iqaluit, Arviet, and Baker Lake,” Thomas said. “We come from a long way away just to get (the team) together.

“So it’s a huge deal for us just to be here.”

Nunavut opened the 2017 Games on Monday versus Minnesota, losing 108-76. In contrast B.C. ended the first day of the tournament with two wins, outscoring their opponents by over 100 points.

Thomas recognizes that having Nunavut represented is especially important for the Games. With the largest per capita Indigenous community among any province or territory, Nunavut holds a special place in Canada.

“(Nunavut’s) Indigenous population is 85 per cent. So it’s a huge message for us to be here,” he said, after the loss to B.C.. “To come from such a long way and be welcomed the way we have been – it’s been incredible.”