Niagara College hosts Basketball Canada academy
Some of the best and brightest of the province’s young basketball players will become quite familiar with the Niagara College gym over the next several months.
The Welland campus will be hosting the Canada Basketball Junior Academy Nov. 19-20, Dec, 17-18, March 11-12, April 22-23 and May 6-7.
The academy is a training and development program for under-14 athletes across Canada.
“We take 20 of the best kids in the province from the seventh grade (2010 birth date) and 20 from the eighth grade (2009 birth date) and we introduce them to our style of play and the things they are going to need to know as they progress down the tracks of the development,” said Michael Meeks, Basketball Canada’s assistant general manager for men’s high performance. “It is pretty much a dumbed-down (age-appropriate) version if you were going to go to our senior camp and watch what we put those athletes through.
“We break things down in a way that we think that stage can understand it and plant seeds that are going to help them as they develop.”
Niagara was able to land the camp following discussions during the 2022 Canada Games between Basketball Canada officials and Michele O’Keefe and Mike Hurley from Niagara College.
“We like the idea of having our gym be part of the high performance pathway,” said O’Keefe, Niagara College’s director of athletics and student engagement. “We have a great facility and we have a great academic side of our program — the exercise science program for example — and the students at the college will be able to learn from the expertise that Canada Basketball will bring to our gym.”
Canada Basketball brings its sports science staffers to the academies and Niagara College students will able to gain insight about sports science and physiology.
“Our students will be able to shadow them and work with them on the weekends when they are here,” she said.
O’Keefe, the former president and CEO of Canada Basketball, knows the value of the academy.
“The junior academy program at Canada Basketball has proven to be very successful. Of the number of Canadians in the NBA, there’s a least a couple who have come through the academy. And the kids who won the under-19 gold medal in Egypt in 2017, five or six of them came through the junior academy,” she said. “The program itself has proven to be great for athlete development and we are just excited to be a part of that.”
Meeks feels Niagara is the perfect place to hold the camps.
“It is a great facility and we were kind of struggling to find a facility that had availability at a cost that wasn’t prohibitive. This is a program where athletes have to pay so we try keep the cost very manageable and affordable for people,” he said. “We don’t want it to be a barrier to keeping the best kids out of the gym. And obviously from when we started the program until now, prices have risen exponentially. You really need a partner who is willing to work with us in terms of gym time, equipment and even staffing in some situations. Niagara was a no brainer and Michele and her staff have been so, so helpful in making it work for us.”
Meeks also likes the geographical location of the college.
“It is a little outside of the GTA so kids can focus and gain value from just being able to walk in and gets things done.”
Players were chosen for the academy following a talent identification camp.
“There are no competitions as of right now. We just train them and going from there they’ll have an opportunity to make an under-16 team two or three years down the road,” Meeks said.
A typical day for the participants will consist of arriving at 9 a.m. for a two-hour gym session. Following a lunch break, there will be a series of presentations lasting one to two hours. The day will end with more on-court training. The presentations will cover topics such as: leadership; nutrition; recovery; building a pre-practice routine; breaking down concepts; social media and branding; and, the NCAA scholarship process.
The Academy is being rolled out across Canada and Basketball Canada has already staged sessions in Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Alberta.
“These things were all underway before COVID and we are hitting the ground running now that there are no more restrictions keeping us from being in the gyms,” Meeks said.