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Dalano Banton reflects on how Rexdale upbringing shaped his career as he joins Toronto Raptors

After making Toronto Raptors history by becoming the first Canadian to be selected by the team as part of a NBA draft, Dalano Banton is reflecting on how his upbringing in Rexdale has shaped himself and his career as he prepares to join the squad.

“I feel like just having the image of Canada or Toronto or wherever, has this only this one side of it where everyone is super nice, but not understanding that there [are] real neighbourhoods where you have to come out and put on like a tough face or you have to come out every day and pursue stuff or portray the way you’re not just to show that you’re not weak,” Banton told reporters on Sunday during his first news conference since joining the team.

“I had to come outside every day and show that I’m a strong man and be a young man at a very early age and make some real decisions for yourself, so I feel like a lot of people don’t understand that coming from Canada a lot of people just think it’s Canada you know like it’s very nice over there and everyone’s so nice, but it’s not always like that.

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Read more: Toronto’s Dalano Banton becomes 1st Canadian to be drafted by Raptors

“I feel like growing up in Rexdale gives you that extra push, that extra grit, just knowing that I had a different upbringing. I went through a lot of things, it was a lot of trials and a lot of tribulations coming out of there.”

Banton, the six-foot-nine and 204-pound guard who was selected 46th in the draft on Thursday, grew up near the intersection of Kipling Avenue and Mount Olive Drive and beamed with pride while discussing his neighbourhood.

“Growing up in Rexdale, just the kids being able to see me. I go to the gyms that they went to all these years and I know a lot of people. Everybody knows it’s like a tight-knit family growing up where I’m from,” he said.

“It’s not about where you are, it’s where you plan to be … plan to live bigger.

Read more: Toronto begins reassessing ‘priority’ neighbourhoods

“Coming where I come from, it gives a lot of people hope. I feel like a lot of people think they can make it now.”

Banton credited his earlier development in basketball and athletics to the Rexdale Community Hub (noting it was literally across the street from where he grew up) and the North Kipling Community Centre, saying he often did runs and drills at both facilities. The community has a few of the City of Toronto’s 31 designated priority neighbourhood improvement areas.

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“They get you into gym, they make sure you do your schoolwork … I just took advantage of those community centres, keeping myself from outside of the neighbourhood,” he said.

“I feel like it was the blessing for me having those community centres to keep me in the gym.”

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During his sophomore season with the Nebraska Cornhuskers during the last season, he averaged 9.6 points, 3.9 assists and 5.9 rebounds over 27 games. He was previously at Western Kentucky.

However, during his time with the Huskers, Banton said he wanted to find a way to pay homage to his Rexdale roots. A former rider of the TTC’s 45 Kipling bus, which went right past his neighbourhood, he picked 45 for his jersey.

“When I was trying to think of a number that means something to me, I was kind of getting tired of just wearing numbers. I feel like you can always make meaning of something, so I felt like once that clicked to me it stuck,” he recalled.

“Everyone who knows me knows I’m a guy who takes where I’m from with me, with pride.”

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In addition to the pride for his home community, Banton discussed his admiration and appreciation for the Raptors noting he’s long been a fan since the Chris Bosh era.

“It was my favourite team. It was the only team that I ever kept up within the NBA constantly … I used to come to the games and just knowing that I can be a part of that now, people can come watch me play like how we used to come watch everyone else, it’s great,” he said.

“It was a dream come true just knowing that all the hard work you put in, everyone in the draft wanting to hear their name called and just being blessed with that opportunity — and it being to the Raptors — I feel like just both of my dreams coming true at once.

“It’s kind of surreal to me still, but I’m just grateful for the opportunity. I’m thankful for it and I thank everyone multiple times a day.”

However, Banton acknowledged getting to where he is hasn’t been easy. He said for basketball players at the high school level looking to get exposure is harder in Canada, noting select schools have stronger recognition in terms of the sports community versus the United States where there is a more universal audience.

“You can be as good as you want sometimes, but it’s just not enough. It’s not on the kids, it’s just the level of exposure,” he said, noting social media is starting to change the prospects for aspiring athletes.

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“I feel like you have to bet on yourself and believe in yourself because if you don’t, no one is going to do it for you. I learned that at an early age.”

Meanwhile, as Banton prepares for playing in the summer league, he said he is looking forward to the evolution of his skills in the coming years and hoped he’ll be able to thrive under the Raptors’ staff.

Read more: As Canada’s Jamal Murray excels in NBA Playoffs, commitment on and off court lauded

“I might not make an instant impact today, but I feel like for years to come and just trusting in the work and trusting in the development of the Raptors, and knowing their track record of how good they are getting guys better and getting guys contracts … I know the sky is the limit for me,” he said.

However, for now, he said he’s looking forward to reconnecting with those who have shown their support for him.

“I’ve just been soaking up the time with my family … everybody is just so happy for me, so I want to see everyone who is happy for me,” he said, adding he’s thinking of ways he can give back to the Mount Olive neighbourhood and the Rexdale community.

“It’s going to be great.”

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