Jewish youth sharpen hoops skills

By: Aaron Greenfield Photos Maccabi Canada Rebound
Adam and Brando - Chile BBall playersGameHandshake

Maccabi Canada’s developmental basketball program capped off its winter session with an exhibition game against the Thornhill Basketball Association on March 7.

For many of the participants, it was their first game experience against an unknown opponent. Team Maccabi started out slow, but as the game wore on, the skills, and more importantly, the lessons of teamwork and sportsmanship, were on full display.

“Everyone played with heart and energy,” said Brando Usher, one of the evening’s special guests, who won gold with Canada’s open men’s basketball team at the Pan American Maccabi Games in Chile in January.  “You can see that some kids have played before, but the most important thing is that everyone had a smile on their face and it looked like they were learning as the game went on.”

Usher and fellow Pan Am teammate, Adam Halpern, who served as guest referees for the game, spoke to the group about their victory in Chile, with their gold medals as inspiration for the potential future Maccabi athletes. Halpern later noted the experience the kids will take from the exhibition game as a key starting point in their development and a valuable asset.

“When you play against other people that you don’t know…that’s the valuable experience,” said Halpern. “You need to make decisions quickly and you need to be more decisive – that’s where you become a better basketball player and it can help you in other things in life as well.”

The game was a positive experience for everyone involved. Maccabi Canada president Tommy Bacher, who was in attendance, put it all in perspective.

“Our coaches have been really good with making them recognize that it’s incremental steps to stardom,” said Bacher. “You’ve got to focus on the things they did well and remind them how much better they can do it the next time.”

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2015 ParticipACTION reports indicate that only 9 per cent of children ages 5-17, reach the recommended 60 minutes of daily activity.   As a sport organization, Maccabi Canada’s vision is to engage Jewish youth at grassroots, nurture their passion for sport, and help improve the statistics.  Offering a basketball program, as one of Maccabi Canada’s developmental skills programs, opens doors for youth to participate in sports, learn new skills, have fun, and be physically active all in one package.

For coach Tom Wilk, however, improving at basketball is only half of the goal. While he believes the program is about helping kids at a young age develop their basketball skills, Wilk realizes it’s also about having fun.
“It’s about getting them into good habits,” Wilk said. “It’s about getting them into leadership roles and…into positions where they can understand what success (is) and understand what teamwork is and understand how to take what they learn here and apply it.”

Joining Wilk is Vlad Kovalevsky, a former NCAA Division II player, who recently won gold for Canada at the 2015 Pan American Maccabi Games in Santiago, Chile.

“When I was a kid, (a program like this) wasn’t really readily available,” Kovalevsky said. “This will allow the grassroots…to develop into future Maccabi games (athletes).”

Andre Serero, the head coach of Canada’s bronze medal-winning junior boys’ basketball team at the 2015 European Maccabi Games last summer, has 30 years of experience with Maccabi Canada, and believes now is the perfect time for a developmental basketball program.

“You just have to look at the NBA and look at the stars that are being produced out of Canada, including first-round picks,” Serero said. “The demand for basketball is very high both for boys and girls.”

Serero also highlighted the deep pool of qualified coaches in Canada, who, like himself, Kovalevsky and Wilk, have a passion both for basketball and for giving back to the community.  It’s the life lessons though, he emphasized, that the participants will take away from the sport and appreciate the most from this program. The joy they will get is “in the perseverance and seeing the hard work pay off over time,” he said.

The program is still in its early stages, but Wilk believes highly in what is already being taught.

“If they ever want to pursue basketball, they have a foundation (from) what we did with them,” said Wilk.  “They have the potential to succeed.”

The program runs for eight weeks at Anne Frank Public School in Vaughan, for children aged 9-12, with Wilk, Kovalevsky and Serero serving as elite level coaches. The participants will showcase their skills in an exhibition game against the Thornhill Basketball Association on March 7.
Tip-off is at 6:30 pm at Anne Frank Public School.

Limited space left for spring programs.  For more information click HERE.

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