A new basketball league is set to tip off in Saskatchewan this fall, but it will feature more than just dribbles and dunks.
The Living Skies Indigenous Basketball League is partnering with the Aboriginal Friendship Centres of Saskatchewan to feature a one-of-a-kind program for youth across the province, ages 11 to 17. The ages will be broken down into two groups, boys and girls, with the junior program for 11- to 14-year-olds and the senior program for 15- to 17-year-olds.
And while there will be plenty of basketball skills taught, lessons learned will go much deeper.
“The league will consist of three components,” said Paige Crozon, manager of the Living Skies Indigenous Basketball League and a former professional player. “There will be an on-court session, workshops and a cultural education component where the athletes will be connected with an Indigenous elder as well as practice plans and coaches’ manuals that are grounded in Indigenous ways of knowing.”
After growing up and playing basketball in her home province, Crozon attended the University of Utah on a full-ride scholarship, where she earned two degrees while amassing 1,000 career points for the Utes. From there, she played professionally in Europe and then with the Canadian national team for nine years.
Since then, she has made the transition to coaching with the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns and was recently hired by the Saskatchewan Rattlers of the Canadian Elite Basketball League. Now, she’s eager to pass on her knowledge and experience.
“It’s a combination of my passion for basketball as well as it’s using basketball as a vessel of positive change in the community, which I am really passionate about and excited for,” said Crozon. “We all know that sport has many benefits in terms of communication, teamwork, leadership.
“We also want to provide opportunities for youth across the province and celebrate the Indigenous culture in our province.”
The idea for the new league originally came from brothers Mike Tanton and Mason Medynski, who are the co-founders of One Love Basketball. The siblings have always had a deep love for basketball, and they wanted to share that passion with the rest of the province, especially the youth.
“Helping to boost their self-esteem, their confidence, and at the same time, teach them some of the things sports teaches young people,” said Tanton.
The project has been in the works for a few years now, and while they had hoped to be up and running by now, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed their start date. However, Tanton found a positive out of the negative.
“Instead of thinking this is not going to happen, we just shifted gears and thought this just gives us more time to plan this out and make it more impactful for the young people,” he said.
And after receiving federal funding, the league and all the programs are being offered free of charge, which makes it that much more accessible for anyone to sign up.
“We want to be able to provide access to sport and not have financial barriers be an implication of whether or not athletes can participate or not,” said Crozon. “Having the programs and the camps be free of charge was a priority for us.”
Crozon, who also recently made headlines after signing with the Saskatchewan Rattlers as an assistant coach, will be very hands-on with the program. And while Indigenous youth will be the focus, Crozon says in the spirit of reconciliation, they are welcoming all athletes and coaches with a passion for basketball.
“We need the buy-in of the communities and then we really need to build the capacity of certified coaches within the communities,” said Crozon. “We all know that sport has many benefits in terms of communication, teamwork, leadership. We also want to provide opportunities for youth across the province and celebrate the indigenous culture in our province.”
Registration is already open at the league’s website as it is hoping to get 450 to 600 athletes and 44 to 88 coaches signed up. It is also offering spring camps in May and June to help kick-start the league, which Tanton believes will benefit everyone as we get through the pandemic.
“The ability for groups to offer as much programming and get kids back doing sports and back to whatever our new normal is going to be is something we’re really going to have to spend a lot of time working on,” he said. “It’s something I think is very important.”