Sudbury's Lo-Ellen Park first northern school to join Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association
Lo-Ellen Park will compete against high-flying southern Ontario teams
A Sudbury high school basketball team is giving up the dream of winning a provincial title to join a growing elite development program geared to propel young players to new heights.
The Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School Knights' girls' team will join the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association (OSBA) starting next season.
They'll be one of the five teams added to the league's women's division, bringing the total number of clubs to 15.
Lindsay Walsh explains the OSBA was created to retain the province's best young basketball players, all while ensuring they receive the proper personal supports and education.
"The difference with respect to the OSBA is that we look at training and the competition as a 12-month period [...] as opposed to the sort of eight-week high school schedule they were playing [within the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations, or OFSAA]," says Walsh.
The move is all the more notable as Lo-Ellen will be first northern Ontario squad in the league's existence.
This past season, former Lo-Ellen star Sophia Zulich suited up for Brantford's TRC Academy.
Timmins' Emma Weltz, a former guard with O'Gorman High School, and Sudbury's Sammie Martin, a Lasalle Secondary School alumnus, both played their Grade 12 seasons with Southwest Academy in London, Ont.
"For us, it was recognizing there were some northern Ontario athletes developing and being supported in their northern communities, but they were leaving to come compete and train within this OSBA setting," says Walsh.
"The northern Ontario group have proven, in terms of their ability to compete with the southern Ontario teams, that they deserved an opportunity to have such a program in their own community."
Revolution for Canadian basketball
The OSBA has garnered some of the credit for Canada's surge onto the worldwide basketball stage over the past decade. On the men's side, Orangeville Prep has already produced NBA players like Jamal Murray and Thon Maker.
But Lo-Ellen head coach Jenn Bourget says the opportunity to get recruited by NCAA or Canadian U Sports programs is equally important for young women.
"Sometimes I find our athletes are not known. They're in the north, and sometimes that can be a bit of a disadvantage, but [recruiters for Canadian and American universities] are going to know who these kids are now," notes Bourget.
She admits it wasn't easy for Lo-Ellen's two-time defending bronze medallists to say goodbye to the dream of winning OFSAA gold.
But she believes the payoff of joining the OSBA will be more than worth it.
"The landscape has changed, so we needed to think what do we do get into a situation where now we're really going to have to work at our game to improve and compete against some of the best kids in the country," says Bourget.
"This is going to be a really exciting venture for Sudbury and northern Ontario."