Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by John Tonin

WORKING ON THE FUNDAMENTALS – Ethan Wilkes, back, and Joel Musiime pass back and forth during their Wolfpack practice on Monday at Jack Hulland Elementary School.

The Wolfpack works to build a strong basketball community

The squeaks of sneakers on hardwood rang through the gym at Jack Hulland Elementary School on Monday evening.

By John Tonin on October 1, 2019

The squeaks of sneakers on hardwood rang through the gym at Jack Hulland Elementary School on Monday evening. A collection of Wolfpack basketball players were going through their training session. It began with the U13s and later the older U15s took the court.

The Wolfpack started five years ago, bringing a competitive basketball environment to the territory. Since its inception, head coach Tim Brady said, the sport has seen continued growth in the North.

"Basketball, I think, has picked up and grown over the past, oh, three or four years, fairly significantly at pretty much all levels," said Brady. "At a recreation level, there are a lot more adults playing, there are three or four different leagues men and women.

"For kids, this is our fifth year with this club. Our numbers have increased. We have five distinct age groups. We have kids as young as five, so we've got almost 100 kids in the program."

The 100 kids involved in the Wolfpack today are far larger than the 12 who originally began the program. Brady chalks the growth of the sport to several factors.

"I think a couple of reasons," said Brady. "In some instances, their friends are involved. But more than anything, they are choosing to stay because it's fun and enjoyable.

"Our initial premise is if we can help these kids really learn to have fun and enjoy the game, they'll come back. And if they keep coming back, they will develop a deeper connection to the game. That's how this has grown."

The first drill, called Keep Away, had the players divided into four teams of five, all in different pinnies. With two teams on the court, the team with the ball had to complete five passes, while unable to dribble or shoot.

The drill stressed ball movement and communication, cutting and getting to open space.

"We really stress building a community connection between kids," said Brady. "We try to work on character and habits and you'll see that as you go up the progressions. You'll see the kids leading themselves, which is terrific.

"That is the kind of player we want to develop. Players who are self-reliant, players that can solve their own problems as they go. Players who can self-correct and players who can self-organize."

This philosophy was evident when it was the older group's turn for practice. When Brady told them it was time to get warm, they organized and got the session started.

Brady said it is important for the players to become self-reliant and adaptable because the coach cannot be on the floor with them.

"Those are the players in team sports that you want," said Brady. "If the team is looking at you to solve problems, you're going to be at a disadvantage. If the coach is leading the problem-solving knowingly or unwittingly, the guys are struggling because we're not on the floor.

"They have to be able to make those changes as they go, and we have to practice it and get out of their way and encourage them to do that."

The skills that the young players are learning on the court, Brady hopes they can translate off the hardwood.

"We really encourage their success on the court and off the court," said Brady, "in their classroom, in their school, everything; socially, relationship-wise, this is a positive thing and a healthy thing, and that combination is something we want to do and promote."

Once the U15s had gone through their warmup, Brady called them over, and together they talked about the rule of three that they follow.

"We teach kids how to self-correct," said Brady. "We look at what we can do today in this session what we can work on with good focus, will help us play tomorrow."

Step one was self-correct, which asked the players to look within and ask what can I do better.

The second was to ask your teammates for help. Or, teammates can scan and offer help. The team's rule is to never push away from a teammate who is trying to help you and always acknowledge your teammate.

The last rule is to go to the coach.

"I'm the last one to come in, which means I have to hang back in there, which isn't always easy to do," said Brady.

When the team was asked if they thought these three steps were helpful to their development, they answered "yes" in unison; "it gives you confidence in your teammates and your coach and you can play through mistakes."

Ethan Wilkes has been playing basketball for seven years, most of those years spent with the Wolfpack, and he thinks his game continues to improve.

"I've been with coach Tim since I was eight and he has helped my game a lot," said Wilkes.

The U15s competed in two tournaments during the summer, one in Calgary and then nationals in Langley. The process they have been following in their development has Wilkes believing the team is ready to compete with the larger contingents.

"We are there now," said Wilkes. "We can definitely compete with the teams down south."

One of the strong points of the team, Wilkes said, was the continuity of the team.

"I've been with some of these guys since kindergarten, so our chemistry is very good," said Wilkes.

As the practice continued, an observer could see the three steps in progress; teammates helped each other, and when a mistake was made, they owned it. The foundation for quality basketball is here in the North.

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