A former youth worker on watching one her former mentees reach for the big time
A former youth worker on watching one her former mentees reach for the big time

When youth worker-turned-filmmaker Sherien Barsoum first met Richard, he was teenager with a temper. More than a decade later, he’s a focused, driven, mature pro athlete.

By Sherien Barsoum
Producer/Director, Player Zero

Over a decade ago, when I was a youth worker in east Toronto, I met a memorable character: Richard Amardi. Only 13 years old, he strode into my after-school program standing six feet tall. His personality was larger-than-life too, making everyone laugh while keeping me on my toes. He quickly became one of my favorite kids from the block.

His friends talked constantly about basketball and played for hours on end. The community centre was their training ground for perfect dunks, fostering their friendships and launching hoop dreams. Pro ball players were part of the small pool of successful role models where Richard and his friends saw themselves represented.

As Richard grew taller, his game improved exponentially. But another force was growing too; a disruptive temper that exploded with increasing frequency. A few times we discussed it, drafting a list of tactics to rein it in and pinpoint its origin. It was a complex problem: instability at home, racial discrimination in his school and on the streets and a series of poor decisions fueled by typical teenage angst.

Despite these setbacks, Richard caught the attention of prestigious American college scouts. He went on to play in the NCAA with the Oregon Ducks and later signed to the National Basketball League of Canada with the Brampton A’s and the Niagara River Lions. He was recognized as a talented force with an upward trajectory towards the big leagues.

Every now and then Richard would reach out to ask for advice. His career had been rocky, as his temper had shown up more than a handful of times. He was kicked off almost every team he played for. Knowing next to nothing about professional basketball, I offered the same words I had received from mentors when I sought direction: stay focused, believe in yourself and work on your character.

Early last summer, Richard called. His voice had a different, urgent tone. He was going to turn things around, he told me. He embarked on a personal rebranding campaign, showing up to gyms in elementary schools and talking to kids about the reality of trying to go pro and honestly facing his demons. He met regularly with a therapist and doubled down on his training. By summer’s end, he had made it to the Canadian Senior Men’s National team and competed in Argentina for the 2017 FIBA AmeriCup.

I saw new level of determination, self-awareness and profound maturity in Richard. When the opportunity came up for him to try out for the G League, the NBA’s farm league, Richard asked if I was interested in filming it. I followed him for four months. His transformation was real; it stood the test of challenges that arose.

I’m incredibly proud of the person he’s become, honoured to have been a part of his journey and excited about the next chapter in his life, regardless of whether or not it includes basketball.