Last week, almost 100 basketball players from across North America were given the opportunity of a lifetime: a practice roster spot on the Raptors 905, the Mississauga-based minor league team for the Toronto Raptors.
On Saturday, September 7, the Raptors’ G League-affiliated team hosted open tryouts at UTM, and participants were given a platform to showcase their skills in front of coaches and staff from within the organization. For a fee of $275 during pre-registration, or a $310 ticket on the day of the event, the dream of playing on a team that has previously featured NBA talents Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Norman Powell, became more attainable.
While the annual salary of a G League player is only around $35,000, a roster spot on one of these teams symbolizes a tangible route to the NBA and a career playing basketball on the biggest stage possible.
In an interview with The Varsity, General Manager of the Raptors 905, Chad Sanders, provided insight on the open tryouts, Canadian basketball, and the relationship between U of T and the 905.
The Varsity: How has the interest in the Raptors 905 team changed alongside the success of the Raptors in recent years?
Chad Sanders: I think we are definitely seeing interest in our team grow alongside the success of the Raptors. Our organization has worked hard to foster a meaningful connection between the two teams and I think that has been shown with how many players have some time with 905 as part of their development with Toronto. As it relates to our open tryout, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this season drew our largest number of attendees following the championship season that the Raptors had.
TV: What does the enthusiasm surrounding these tryouts reflect about Canadian basketball?
CS: The one thing I have noticed over the last few years is how basketball has continued to grow — particularly the growth at the grassroots level. We have a number of camps that we run which are well attended, and even just seeing kids at the public courts, basketball is really surging in popularity and we want to make sure we continue to help that happen.
TV: How many students or alumni from U of T participated in the tryouts? What was the background of the participating of basketball players?
CS: We had a few players that had either attended U of T or played for the basketball team. The school has been so accommodating to us, whether it be at the downtown or Mississauga campus, it really makes the day run smooth when you have a good venue.
Players ranged from your recreational men’s league players to professionals, and I think that’s the beauty of the open tryout, it really is for anyone. Some people just come out for the experience of being around basketball people and a professional basketball environment. It’s important that we as a staff and organization provide that experience for everyone and really treat everyone who comes out with the same mentality.
TV: What were the scouts and coaches looking for? What types of drills and games did players participate in?
CS: I think we are always looking for a few key things: talent, potential, and intangibles. The unique thing about the NBA G League is that rosters essentially reset every season, so you are starting from scratch each year. With that reality, it is important to identify players who can play within the team, but who also have the ability to create for themselves.
We structured the day so we could have some of the more individual aspects of the game come through in drills and smaller group games and then we organized full games that would put players in a position to show how they could operate within a team.
TV: How has the relationship between the Raptors organization and U of T changed the campus atmosphere and the opportunities that are available to the U of T community?
CS: We have a great relationship with U of T and UTM. We have used the facilities numerous times throughout the last four years, whether it be for open tryouts, G League showcases, or practices. Last season one of our mentor coaches was Tamara Tatham, who is an assistant from U of T with the women’s team and she was great for our program. We have nothing but good things to say about our experiences with U of T.
TV: How was the talent compared to past years’?
CS: We are really fortunate to be in an area that has really produced legitimate basketball talent. Lots of great players have come from Toronto and surrounding areas, and the open tryout is another opportunity to expose this talent. This season definitely stayed at the standard we have come to expect from the open tryout process.
TV: Given that current Raptors players Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Norman Powell have all spent time in the G League, playing for the 905, what advice would you give a to a Varsity student regarding a career in professional basketball, and the different paths it might take to get there?
CS: I think you hit the nail on the head with the last part; there is no one path to follow. I’ve been fortunate to work internationally, and the sport of basketball has such a global presence — great basketball is being played all over the globe. That being the case, scouts are all over the world searching for talent, and if it is out there, it will be found.
Someone like Pascal — who you mentioned — was first seen at a basketball without borders camp in Africa. If you look at the NBA, even in the last few years. with players like Luka Doncic and Giannis, the game is more global than ever. The other big thing would be to just keep working at it and focus on improving. All the players who you mentioned, Fred, Pascal, Norm, they all have such a strong work ethic and are constantly adding and improving their craft.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.