Raptors win will have 'everlasting' effect on young basketball players, says Regina coach

Players on the Regina Mambas basketball team say the Toronto Raptors' NBA championship win pushes them to work harder and gives them hope they too could make the pro leagues one day.

Players on the Regina Mambas basketball team say the Raptors' NBA championship pushes them to work harder

The Regina Mambas basketball team is made up of mostly 12- and 13-year-old players. They say the Toronto Raptors' NBA championship win is inspiring. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

After the Toronto Raptors' historic championship win last week, the effects of a Canadian NBA victory are already starting to be felt at the local level, say some young players in Regina.

It goes beyond just talking about basketball, says Kyle Conteh, 12.

"Just realizing that it's not impossible to make it to the league," he said. "It's very possible if you work hard and train as hard as they do." 

Conteh plays on the Regina Mambas basketball team. The Mambas started in fall 2017 and currently have around a dozen players. 

"So many more people are going to come and play basketball," following the Raptors' success, Conteh said. "It's crazy." 

"It's kind of helped us develop as a team and work together, and kind of look up to them," said Mambas player Luke Yakemchuk.

"It gives me something to work on, to see if I can do my best, I can become like that one day," he said. "It gives me something to strive for and it just makes me happy."

The Regina Mambas basketball team trains at a school in the North End of Regina. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Noel Castillo is the head coach of the Mambas. He said the team started in the beginning as a way for the Grade 5 kids at the time to keep playing with support from HoopLife, a Regina basketball academy, and the Regina Community Basketball Association.

Since the Raptors won the championship on June 13, the Mambas' practices have been more energetic and enthusiastic than before, Castillo said, and he thinks it will have a similar impact on other teams in the city.

"I think a lot of kids will aspire to be basketball players," Castillo said. "It's good exposure of the sport." 

Noel Castillo is the head coach of the Regina Mambas. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

The win for a Canadian team in the NBA will have an "everlasting" effect on his team, Castillo said. 

"It gives them a vision, and that's what kids need is a vision, and something real to look at."

Castillo said even his kids, ages four and one, are playing around with basketballs now and love looking up to the big kids.

"The future is bright in Saskatchewan," he said. "It's everywhere now. So I'm happy for the future of basketball in Saskatchewan and I'm thankful that people are seeing that basketball's the greatest sport in the world."

Changing recess

Conteh says he's noticed a change at his school, Harvest City Christian Academy, since the Raptors' playoff success. 

"A lot more people are talking about basketball," he said. "It's kind of crazy how much one game can affect a whole school." 

There are Raptors jerseys everywhere, he says, and many people jumped on the team's bandwagon. 

"People who cheered for Boston or something, now they're like, 'Oh yeah, I cheered for the Raptors since I was three years old."

Ty Ocaya is one of the players on the Regina Mambas. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Fellow Mambas player Ty Ocaya, 12, said he sees the difference during recess at his school.

"Ever since the Raptors got in the playoffs and stuff, there's … little kids just, like, trying to be like NBA players on the court."

At McLurg Elementary School, where Ocaya goes, there are two courts — one for older kids and one for younger. But recently, older kids like Ocaya have let the younger kids play on the "big kids court" — and when they do, the younger players are "all smiles," Ocaya said. 

"We're always just passing them the ball, and we're just kind of jogging and they're just going full speed [running]," Ocaya said. "It's so funny." 

Members of the Regina Mambas Basketball Team show their 'game faces' after a practice. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

For kids thinking about playing basketball but who are nervous, Conteh said "just do it." 

"I was very unsure in Grade 5 when I showed up for the basketball team, but I made it and now I'm here on a club team," Conteh said. "Just try and if you fail, keep on training, because I'm sure you'll make it."


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