The importance of free agency

Kevin Durant’s move to the Warriors exemplifies the purpose of free agency

The importance of free agency

In July 2016, NBA superstar Kevin Durant became an unrestricted free agent. After eight seasons with Oklahoma City Thunder without winning a title, Durant wanted to play elsewhere.

In the history of the NBA, it’s rare for a player of Durant’s calibre to become an unrestricted free agent in the middle of his prime.

The entire free agency process — from his four-hour meeting with the Boston Celtics to a two-hour meeting with almost the entire Golden State Warriors team, and so on — was covered minute-by-minute by the media.

With Durant’s ultimate decision and without games on the horizon, his free agency gave fans something to talk about.

Durant joined the Warriors on July 4, 2016, and we all know how that went: the team won two straight NBA championships. So, how did this whole ‘free agency’ fiasco even start? And how has player mobility empowered stars like Durant?

Free agency, along with the NBA’s salary cap increase from $70 million to $94 million in 2016, has allowed stronger NBA franchises to pay multiple superstars at one time, creating a top-heavy league. As an additional caveat, many superstars like Durant have signed on below market value to increase their mobility and play where they want.

For example, DeMarcus Cousins signed a relatively cheap short-term deal with the Warriors in July after an Achilles injury. ‘Cheap’ is the operative word, as he will make only $5.3 million this season, a substantial decrease from $18.1 million in 2017–2018.

While four all-stars playing on one team is infuriating for fans outside of Oakland, maintaining player rights and freedoms is more important than allowing teams to own players.

Sports leagues have not always allowed players to become free agents.

In 1975, pitchers Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith refused to sign their contract with the MLB’s Oakland Athletics and demanded freedom in the open market. Baseball contracts used to include a reserve clause, which meant that players were bound to their team in perpetuity and the team had the right to extend a contract without a word from the player.

The arbitrator’s decision that November ruled in favour of free agency, allowing players to sign on the open market once a contract expires.

Up until 1988, NBA players could only be drafted or traded as their teams essentially owned them.

In 1987, the Seattle SuperSonics drafted two frontcourt rookies, making six-foot-ten forward Tom Chambers a hindrance to their lineup. Chambers, a proven NBA star, needed a franchise that would make the most out of his talent. Head of the NBA player’s union Larry Fleisher told Chambers that he may be able to “get this unrestricted free agency thing done.”

A few days later, it was official. Players whose contracts had ended could freely join any team as long as they had been in the league for over seven years and had finished two contracts. Chambers immediately joined the Phoenix Suns and led them to the Western Conference Finals in consecutive seasons.

Durant’s move to the Warriors wouldn’t have been possible without Chambers and Fleisher.

Free agency has allowed players to choose where they want to work, a freedom that all citizens are rightfully allowed.

Players are no longer treated as a small piece of a larger business. Their talent, coupled with the freedom of free agency, allows them to make the demands necessary to nearly run an organization. After all, shouldn’t those who produce the entertainment reap the most benefits from their skill?

In Duke Canada Tour, Toronto plays host to talented freshman class

Top recruit RJ Barrett makes his homecoming

In Duke Canada Tour, Toronto plays host to talented freshman class

What a week it had been for Canadian basketball. When last month’s Duke Canada Tour came to an end, the impact the event had on basketball development in Canada cannot be overstated. Canadians in Toronto and Montréal had the opportunity to witness the top two ranked players in the country, Zion Williamson and our homegrown talent, RJ Barrett.

As fortunate as these two cities were to host the Duke Blue Devils on their international tour, this event almost didn’t happen. The National Collegiate Athletic Association only permits college basketball teams to travel internationally once every four years during the summer to test themselves against competition abroad.

Initially, the Blue Devils were supposed to travel to the Dominican Republic last summer, but head coach Mike Krzyzewski fell ill, and their tour was postponed to this year, where RJ Barrett had the opportunity to play his first few games as a Blue Devil in the city he was raised in.

For the Varsity Blues, this provided another opportunity for international competition. They finished with a bronze medal in a tournament in Taiwan earlier this summer, and now they had another opportunity to build team camaraderie before their regular season begins in October.

The Blue Devils arrived in Toronto on August 24 for a media day presser at the Westin Harbor Castle. Coach K opened up with high praise for Canada and the amazing relationship he’s had with Jay Triano, head coach of the Canada basketball team. When asked about his first time in Toronto, he had this to say: “I didn’t realize what a great city Toronto was. So multicultural. A world city. Not just a great Canadian city, but a world city. It really opens its arms to all different types of cultures.”

Before tip-off on Friday evening, the atmosphere was electric. The parking lot was filled with school buses that carried students and families travelling from Duke University. The crowd looked like a sea of royal blue, filled with fans from across Ontario, here to witness this rare opportunity. Former Varsity Blues athletes were also in attendance to support the current roster, as well as NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson and Canadian track star Andre De Grasse.

Streamed on ESPN and TSN, this was likely the first time our Varsity players competed on national television, and while the nerves were likely there, they didn’t show. The Blues came out strong and hung around the far more talented Blue Devils. Leading the way was fourth-year forward Nikola Paradina, who finished with a team-high 15 points alongside three assists and three baskets from the perimeter.

While some fans came to support RJ Barrett, there were many fans in the arena waiting for Duke forward Zion Williamson to get off on a fast break and showcase his vertical ability. That opportunity came minutes into the first quarter, when Williamson stole the ball, glided in the air for what seemed like an eternity, and dunked, which sent the crowd into a frenzy.

The final score was 96–60 for the Blue Devils as they separated themselves in the second half, but that wasn’t truly indicative of how competitive the matchup was. As the buzzer sounded, our Varsity Blues did not hang their head in defeat; the team put forth their best effort against the top-ranked school in the US.

“I think it was a tremendous experience for our players. It’s once in a lifetime to play against a program that is so historically significant. Their current roster is really quite something so for our guys to compete against them is really special,” said head coach John Campbell.

Krzyzewski also spoke highly of the Varsity Blues, saying “Toronto does what they need to do with their talent, that is to kind of spread you and get shuffle cuts off the high post… they keep their spacing well.”

The Blue Devils finished the week 3–0 after defeating the Ryerson Rams and the McGill Redmen as well. As the Duke Canada Tour concluded, Coach K had this to say about their time spent here: “The guys loved it. My players loved it, they didn’t like it, they loved it… As good as we thought we’d feel about the whole experience, it’s exponentially better… The three coaches and theirs teams, they were fabulous in preparing and testing us.”

For Canadian programs to have the opportunity to go against one of the most respected basketball programs in the world comes with invaluable experience to prepare them for the season ahead. The Varsity Blues will be back in preseason action on September 28 against the Dalhousie Tigers.

What’s behind the increase of vegans in the NBA?

Basketball players are joining the animal-free wave

What’s behind the increase of vegans in the NBA?

One of the rising nutritional trends among athletes today is veganism. This is especially pronounced in the the world of basketball, where more and more players are turning toward vegan diets and lifestyles.

A vegan is defined as someone who doesn’t eat animals or any animal products, which includes all meat, poultry, fish, seafood and dairy products.

As athletes continue to devise strategies to increase performance, ideas around diet and nutrition have also evolved, whether that be hiring personal chefs or even nutritionists to watch what they put into their bodies. The amount that NBA players invest into themselves has dramatically increased over the past decade, with keeping track of their diets and what caused them to be injured being among the leading forces in the so-called revolution.

“I had a recurring injury in my knee,” free agent Jahlil Okafor told SB Nation. “I just kept getting hurt and my knee was always inflamed. The main cause of my knee being swollen was dairy. I cut dairy, watched a few documentaries. Then, I cut out steak, cut out chicken, then gradually started cutting out every animal-based product.”

“Now I’m just an all-out vegan,” added Okafor.

Okafor is not alone in the NBA’s latest growing trend, with Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Enes Kanter, Victor Oladipo, and Wilson Chandler taking up the vegan way of life.

The changing nature of basketball play coincides with this trend. According to Bleacher Report, the NBA has been leaning toward playing ‘small ball,’ a style of play in which the emphasis is placed on leaner athletes who play a variety of positions to outpace and ultimately outrun their opponents. The rise of small ball has seen a decrease in the weight of players since 2013.

It’s important that NBA players on vegan diets have still been able to maintain strength training during the offseason. Performance-wise, players want to increase muscle mass to increase weight, making them more likely to overwhelm an opposing defender when posting up or finishing through a contact at the rim on a layup attempt. Putting on this muscle weight has traditionally been done through high-carbohydrate, high-protein diets.

However, if players add too much muscle, they’ll become too slow to keep up with the faster, more agile players, and they will have endurance issues throughout the game, making them less effective. This can lower minutes on the court in the short term, and, in the long term, it will affect a player’s market value. Vegan diets can allow players to put on enough muscle to stay competitive on the court without running the risk of being too heavy in an increasingly fast game.

Veganism also isn’t unique to the NBA. Despite the rigorous training and dietary requirements in the NFL, 11 members of the Tennessee Titans followed in linebacker Wesley Woodward’s footsteps and adopted a plant-based diet.

Woodward told AP Sports, “My energy level’s gone up… It’s just putting in good fuel to your body. And of course, it’s always hard to keep weight on this time of the season. But it’s worth it for me staying on top of my health.”

NFL quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady both enjoy near vegan diets; Rodgers has cut out dairy from his diet but still indulges in red meat and fish, while Brady credits not consuming dairy or inflammatory foods like peppers, mushrooms, and eggplants to his career’s longevity as he continues to play at a high level at 41.

All things considered, it appears that the traditional idea of bulking up with lots of meat is waning in popularity, and new ideas are being tried, both for competitive purposes and for personal health. It will be up to the players to decide what is right for them.

And while professional athletes are on a different level from the average person, for those of us who are more health conscious, the same benefits on a micro level can be applied here. For example, due to the lower amount of saturated fats and cholesterol consumed in a vegan diet, cardiovascular health is improved, reducing the risk of heart disease. And eating anti-inflammatory foods like kale, spinach, tomatoes, and blueberries can increase energy levels.

In the end, though we aren’t professional athletes, let alone elite basketball players, the fact that more athletes are gravitating toward health conscious options underscores an important emphasis on health and well-being. That should push us toward the ultimate goal of a better lifestyle, on our own terms.

Can Kawhi Leonard deliver the Raptors a title?

Six Varsity contributors provide their thoughts on the mega-trade

Can Kawhi Leonard deliver the Raptors a title?

Last week, the Toronto Raptors acquired Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poetl, and a first-round draft pick, and I, for one, could not be happier.

The Raptors finished last season with a disappointing playoff run, but the team still has a great defense and one of the best benches in the NBA. The team was hindered by mediocre leadership from their star players.

Adding Leonard, a top-five player, NBA champion, and two-time defensive player of the year is the best possible outcome for the Raptors, even if he only plays for one season. While many idealists and DeRozan fans are hurting, I ask, what more were you expecting from DeRozan?

Do you like seeing a star choke and break your heart every postseason? Was he really worth holding on to? In the end, a four-game sweep by an inferior Cavaliers team signaled to Masai Ujiri that enough is enough, and DeRozan is expendable.

To the many fans who are appalled by the way DeRozan’s trade was handled, you probably haven’t been watching the NBA for very long. It is the nature of the league to send players away on short notice, and even against their desires. Nothing especially horrible or new has happened in DeRozan’s situation. The NBA is a business first.

And, to those who say that Kawhi is just a “one-year rental” and not worth the price, I encourage you to see this season optimistically.

Take pride in yourself as a Canadian and as a Raptors fan. We all assumed Paul George would leave Oklahoma City after one year, but this summer he extended his contract by four years because the Thunder fans showed him the love he deserves. Toronto is a far better home than Oklahoma City.

We must show Kawhi the same affection that we once showed Vince Carter, Chris Bosh, and DeMar DeRozan. Kawhi is one of the best on-ball defenders ever to play basketball and has the chance to be the greatest player in Raptors history.

The addition of Kawhi is a godsend for the Raptors and it’s time that fans let go of their DeRozan guilt, celebrate his contributions to the franchise, and welcome Kawhi Leonard with as much love and appreciation as possible.

— Isaac Consenstein

When evaluating the success of a trade, the two most important criteria to consider are: Did you get better players in exchange for who you gave up? And, did you do so without sacrificing your future? The Raptors passed both of these tests with flying colours when they acquired Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green for DeRozan, Poetl, and a protected first-round pick.

Leonard is an instant upgrade from DeRozan in nearly all phases of the game.

Since entering the NBA in 2012, Leonard has averaged nearly a third more rebounds per game than DeRozan at 6.2 to 4.1, has higher field-goal and free-throw percentages, and is a far better three-point shooter. And that’s just on the offensive end. Leonard is also known for his lockdown defense and his ability to defend four positions on the court.

In terms of the Raptors’ title hopes, welcoming Leonard makes them second favorites to win the Eastern Conference, just behind the youthful Boston Celtics juggernaut. Ogugua ‘OG’ Anunoby will also lessen Leonard’s defensive workload, hopefully spurring his offensive talents. Having LeBron in Los Angeles certainly helps as well.

I don’t believe Leonard will stay in Toronto beyond this season. However, having only played nine games out of a possible 82 in 201718, and never having played more than 74 games in a season, Leonard has a lot to prove. As Isaiah Thomas found out this season, talented players who are injury-prone don’t always command max contracts.

Leonard needs to use this season to reaffirm his love for basketball, or he may end up as just another “could’ve been great” story.

— Kevin Kapenda

If there were any doubts about Masai Ujiri’s culture reset, they were put to rest by the Leonard-DeRozan trade.

Ujiri made his promise in 2017 after LeBron eliminated the Raptors for the second consecutive season. The reset, which led to a much-improved playstyle, was supposed to help the Raptors overcome LeBron in the playoffs and make them champions, or, at least, contenders. Only, it didn’t.

LeBron once again swept the Raptors in 2018, which culminated in Masai’s decision to trade DeRozan.

While controversial, this gamble was a no-brainer for Toronto. Leonard is better than DeRozan in virtually all facets of the game. Leonard’s strengths also pair well with Toronto’s revamped system, further complementing the team in ways that DeRozan strengths couldn’t.

All signs point to Leonard being the X-factor that will push the Raptors over their playoffs hump. Despite last season’s embarrassment, the addition of Leonard to the team helps the Raptors retain their status as true title contenders, at least on paper.

— Long Vuong

It is safe to say that the Toronto Raptors are having one of the biggest offseason trades in franchise history. However, this trade poses more questions than answers. Nonetheless, there are three key takeaways we can pull out of this:

  • It may very well be a one-year rental.

Leonard’s expiring contract has many questioning if he will leave after this season. The superstar has made it clear that he wants to play in Los Angeles, however, like Oklahoma City Thunder did with fellow California native Paul George, the Raptors are hoping they can convince Leonard to sign a long-term deal.

  • He will play.

Of course, the first question Raptors fans are asking is if Leonard will play. After initially showing no interest in being here, Leonard has reportedly begun to “warm to the idea” of playing in the North. Even if he still shows no desire to be a Raptor, he would only be hurting himself  should he sit out in free agency.

  • On paper, this is a giant upgrade.

Assuming Leonard plays, this is an unquestionable upgrade for the Raptors. As great of a player as DeMar DeRozan is in the regular season, he infamously shrinks come playoff time. Leonard, when healthy, is the best two-way player in the world with MVP talent. In terms of personnel, the Raptors clearly won the trade.

Love the trade or hate it, no one can deny Masai Ujiri’s commitment to his promise of a “culture reset.”

— Yehia Mahdi

It’s been a tough week for Raptors fans since the news broke that the team parted ways with DeMar DeRozan.

DeRozan is a four-time all-star and the Raptors’ franchise leader in total points scored, games played, and minutes played, but his impact as a Raptor exceeds statistics as he has been the heart of the team since Chris Bosh’s departure.

Raptors fans are eternally grateful to DeRozan for this and it hurts to lose him, but after five consecutive years of playoff disappointments, something needed to change.

This trade is impactful because, by acquiring arguably the best two-way player in the NBA for a top-15 NBA talent at best, the Raptors are able to retain a competitive core while gaining a better centerpiece.

Leonard’s athleticism, defense, and unselfish play meshes well with the Raptors culture, which allows us to compete with Eastern Conference juggernauts, such as the Celtics, and offers valuable playoff experience to our young team.

Some fans fear that Leonard will merely be a rental because his contract expires next season, but this experiment is low-risk, as the Raptors will either  retain a star or gain the cap space to pursue another. Losing DeRozan is gut-wrenching, but it is a necessary decision in the pursuit of a championship.

— Tushar Sharma

Every avid Raptors fan has heard of the trade that happened Wednesday morning. What they need to know is that this trade will only be beneficial if Kawhi Leonard is able to be the superstar that this team needs.

DeRozan professed his loyalty to this city in the finale of Open Gyms’ sixth season. He “always wanted to give Toronto [a championship]; they deserve it” because he “look[s] at Toronto like a second home” and this city has accepted him as one of our own.

After consistently underperforming in the playoffs, despite their regular season success, it was clear that the team’s core needed a change. Hopefully, Leonard will provide that on both offensive and defensive ends of the court.

The loss of Jakob Poeltl also creates a discrepancy in possibly one of the best benches in Raptors history that contributed significantly to the success of the 20172018 Raptors team. CJ Miles commented on the bench, saying that “there weren’t another five guys off the bench that were doing what we did.”

Despite the uncertainty of the upcoming season, as DeRozan once said, “whatever needs to be done to get this opportunity again, we’ve got to do it. We have to trust the next step.”

— Amarra Mohamed

The NBA’s competitive balance conundrum

Can anyone beat the Golden State Warriors?

The NBA’s competitive balance conundrum

After the Golden State Warriors won their second consecutive NBA title against the Cleveland Cavaliers — their third title in four years — many NBA fans are growing restless with the lack of parity in the league.

In the past two seasons, the Warriors have lost once in the NBA Finals, which is especially concerning given that the Finals are usually set up to be the most competitive matchup in the playoffs.

One of the main critiques of these ‘superteams’ is that they have offset the competitive balance the league once had, but I’m not quite sold on the idea that superteams offsetting the competition is a recent development. If you take a look at the history of the NBA, there has never been much parity.

The NBA was built on dynasties. In the ‘60s, you had the Boston Celtics winning nine times; in the ‘80s, the Los Angeles Lakers won five times and the Celtics three; in the ‘90s, the Chicago Bulls won six times; and from 2000–2015, you had the Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, and Miami Heat winning 12 of 15 championships.

There has never been any distinguishable movement in terms of who gets to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the season. This is not a new problem for the league, and trying to eliminate superteams won’t solve it.

In an effort to deter player movement like the league is experiencing now, the NBA created a designated veteran contract — in other words, an incentive for players to re-sign with their team, and which allows them to sign a much larger contract.

So far, the top two teams in the NBA, the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors, have each managed to sign a superstar — Chris Paul and Kevin Durant, respectively. They have decided to forego the designated veteran contract, along with the extra millions that would go along with it, and instead compete for the championship.

The largest competitive problem the league has right now is not superteams: it’s that the majority of NBA talent is stacked in the Western Conference. With LeBron James now moving out west to the Lakers, arguably, the top 10 players in the league are located in the same conference. The disparity in competition between the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference is a serious problem.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has announced that he will look into a reformed playoff structure to ensure the two best teams meet in the NBA Finals. The proposed new structure would lead to having the top 16 teams overall make the playoffs, regardless of which conference they came from.

In other words, the exciting seven-game series that the Rockets and the Warriors had this year could have been for the NBA championship, instead of the lackluster four-game series with the Cavaliers.

It’s very clear that the top teams in the NBA are on a different level than the rest of the league. So where does that leave teams who are on the outside looking in, like the Toronto Raptors?

As it turns out, the Raptors are in a tough spot. To compete in this league, they’re going to have to make bold moves, and that can come from big free agent signings or blockbuster trades. With LeBron moving to the west, the door seems to have opened for the Raptors once more. Under the tutelage of their new head coach, Nick Nurse, the Raptors are looking to retool, which may put them among the top few teams in the east ready to compete for a spot in the finals.

The signing of DeMarcus Cousins to the Warriors sent the league into a frenzy, with many coming to the conclusion that the NBA season is already over, and while that may be true, his signing itself isn’t simply the problem.

As fans, we tend to judge star players’ free agency decisions based off of what seem to be their reasons for signing. It’s either that they’ve signed for the money, in which case we criticize them for choosing money over championship rings, or that they’ve signed with a major contender, and we accuse them of taking the easy way out.

Fans can’t have it both ways. If players are judged solely on NBA championships, we can’t blame them for joining the top contenders.

The NBA is still about competition, and the Warriors are simply competing at a higher level than everyone else. After they lost the NBA Finals in 2015, the team replaced Harrison Barnes with Durant. They faced elimination twice this past postseason against the Rockets and have added Cousins, a perennial All-Star. The Warriors have refused to stay complacent, and other teams should follow suit.

Despite all the criticism the league is facing, ratings are the highest they’ve ever been, with fans tuning in hoping to see Goliath fall. The NBA has always been about dynasties, and true parity has never existed. As the saying goes, don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Can the Raptors reach the NBA Finals?

Toronto lost key players Cory Joseph and DeMarre Carroll in the offseason

Can the Raptors reach the NBA Finals?

It’s that time of year again: the NBA season is about to begin. Last season, the Toronto Raptors finished 51–31, which was good enough to lock up their second straight 50-win season and third place status in the Eastern Conference. Their impressive regular season success, however, didn’t translate in the playoffs in the way fans were hoping for.

After a tough six-game series against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Raptors advanced to play a familiar foe in LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. While many were hoping for a competitive rematch, LeBron and company had different ideas: they swept them in four games.

After a long offseason, the Raptors were able to re-sign core team members Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka, and Norman Powell in hopes of climbing the Eastern Conference ladder.

Despite many players returning to the franchise in 2017, one familiar face won’t be back. The Raptors traded DeMarre Carroll and two 2018 draft picks to the Brooklyn Nets for Justin Hamilton.

After the trade was completed, Carroll told Postmedia, “I feel like a lot of guys didn’t trust each other, and a lot of guys, they didn’t feel like other guys could produce.” Raptors team President Masai Ujiri dismissed the comments and said that he takes them “with a grain of salt.” While many fans were also quick to dismiss Carroll’s comments, the numbers never lie — if we look at Toronto’s on-court stats, his statement seems to hold true.

The Raptors ranked dead last in assist percentage per game last season and were ranked second in isolation basketball. It’s easy to come to the incorrect conclusion that, since the Raptors won 51 games last year, their system works. You might be able to get away with playing isolation basketball during the regular season, but against tougher teams night in and night out during the playoffs, you need to be able to rely on other players.

The numbers show this to be true: the Raptors’ offensive rating ranked sixth in the regular season, while in the playoffs it was ranked third worst. Essentially, the Raptors were too predictable in the playoffs, which was almost their downfall against the Bucks, who ranked first in defense ratings in the playoffs, and it was certainly their downfall against the Cavaliers. Ujiri did try to address the team’s offensive woes by acquiring sharpshooter CJ Miles and drafting OG Anunoby. These additions add versatility to the wings and three-point shooting that is vital to making a deep run in the playoffs.

There’s been a lot of talk about how the Eastern Conference has become less competitive over the past decade, though with all the moves made this summer, you could argue that the notion is a thing of the past. The blockbuster trade of the summer happened between the top two teams in the east last year, the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The trade centred around star guards Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas. It’s too early to tell who won this trade, but we know that it gives Boston the star power they were looking for and Cleveland the depth they were lacking. For the Raptors, this means that their strongest competitors last year arguably got even better.

While many teams have decided to wait out the Golden State Warriors era in basketball, there are still some teams in the west that are competing and changing up their rosters in the hopes of taking down this dynasty.

Oklahoma City Thunder made the biggest splash this offseason by adding all-stars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony; the Houston Rockets added Chris Paul to pair with James Harden; the Minnesota Timberwolves added Jeff Teague and Jimmy Butler to their young core; and the San Antonio Spurs added Rudy Gay to add depth to their roster.

For the Raptors, the road to the finals is a long one. But the key to their success this year is moving the ball a lot more on offense. With a full training camp and preseason to get familiar with one another, it’s important that trust is built between players.

Sports Industry Conference

Conference helps students bridge the gap from sport enthusiasm to sport industry

Sports Industry Conference

Hosted by the University of Toronto Sports and Business Association (UTSB), the theme for this year’s sports industry conference was “Behind The Game: Building the Playbook.” Over 360 students from different universities across the province were in attendance.

Rookie season

There was a panel dedicated to mentorship and development that included Tyler Currie, —the director of international affairs for the NHL’s Player’s Assocation, and Rachel Bonnetta the host of Major League Soccer. 

The panelists agreed that mentorship was a key factor in the growth of the industry. “There is no substitute for a great boss,” said Saint John Sea Dogs president Trevor Georgie.

Currie spoke to the value of encountering what he refers to as an “anti-mentor.”    

Each speaker commented on the relationship between chance and preparation and the importance of honouring personal values. Each story emphasized that meeting a potential mentor is not enough to guarantee a smooth transition into the working world, but rather that students must make an active effort to engage with, and learn from, guidance.

No “I” in team

The second panel of the day highlighted the role of community and partnership in the industry. Jillian Svensson, vice president of business development and operations for You Can Play, explained that when it comes to removing barriers in sport, partnership is essential. Together, the COC and You Can Play have formed the “One Team” initative, which runs programs and promotes the acceptance of LGBT+ athletes in sport.

Shooting hoops

The first keynote panel of the day explored basketball and its growing popularity in Canada. Canada Basketball president and CEO, Michele O’Keefe explained that, while it will be a while before basketball reaches the level enjoyed popularity of hockey in Canada, the number of participants in the sport is on the rise. TSN insider and panel moderator Jack Armstrong recalled the evolution of basketball in Canada, from generating practice players to athletes “with the skills and athleticism to start and get drafted to the NBA.”

Former resident and current manager of the Toronto Raptors and Phoenix Suns Bryan Colangelo, added that he would like to see more funding coming from the federal government to encourage the sport’s growth.

Money ball

The third panel of the day, Data and Analytics: Staying Ahead of the Curve, featured industry insider Jason Rosenfeld, the director of basketball analytics for the NBA. The panel, which was moderated by Scott Cullen an analytics columnist for TSN, highlighted the importance of analytics and statistics in sports.

“The NBA needs to translate international statistics to NBA statistics [and] use data to see what is wrong and how to improve on that,” said Rosenfeld. He mentioned that fans are slowly but surely becoming interested in sports statistics. “It’s great to have fans excited about stats and data in the leagues; it’s fantastic.”

Going for gold

The fourth panel of the day, The Pinnacle of Sport: Sports at the Highest Level, discussed how far sport has come in Canada, and the importance of specific endeavours in that development. Masai Ujuri, general manager of the Toronto Raptors, was praised for his direction of the country’s sole NBA franchise. Johann Koss, founder of Right to Play, remarked that behind every successful sports team are multiple people and organizations who helped make the success possible. He suggested that “To build a successful team, [one should] build relationships and establish young communication with everyone you work with.” Tim Bezbatchenko, Toronto FC general manager, added that when creating long lasting success, “trust with the players is crucial.” 

Over time

The final talk of the night, International Expansion, saw TSN’s Leafs Lunch host Andi Petrillo interview NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

Daly, who was named the deputy commissioner in 2005, spoke about the potential for two new teams to emerge in the NHL. “We are discussing it, still in the early stages. Either [it] will be in Quebec City or Las Vegas,” he said.

Overall, the conference was a huge success. When asked if he believed this type of event was helpful to delegates, Tyler Currie said that a passion for business and sport is what brought the delegates to the conference.

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Blues take Centre Court during NBA All-Star festivities

All-star exhibition was held in Toronto for the first time last weekend

Blues take Centre Court during NBA All-Star festivities

The Varsity Blues (5-12) men’s basketball team fell to the Ryerson Rams (15-2), 79-94 during the NBA Centre Court festivities for the 2016 NBA All-Star game.

The game celebrated the opening of the NBA All-Star Weekend in Toronto. The All-Star exhibition is an annual weekend of basketball festivities held by the NBA, which includes skills competitions, most notably a slam-dunk competiton, and a final match up between the best players in the eastern and western conferences. 

This year, host city Toronto ensured fans of all ages could enjoy various basketball drills and activities at the NBA Centre Court event, which were facilitated by All-Star staff, former NBA player Dikembe Mutombo and current San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge.

The Blues represented U of T in a showcase of Ontario varsity basketball talent throughout the weekend. The men’s team took on Ontario University Athletics (OUA) leaders and cross-town rivals Ryerson Rams. The day prior, the Queen’s Gaels defeated the Windsor Lancers in the women’s All-Star showcase.

More than just an opportunity to give varsity athletes a taste of the pros, the event displayed the strong passion for basketball many Torontonians harbour in a hockey-dominated nation. It comes at a time when the Toronto Raptors are second in the Eastern Conference standings and the Leafs sit at the bottom of the NHL.   

During the matchup between the Blues and Rams, U of T kept it close in the first half before the Rams went on a scoring run in the third quarter. Using their size and firm defense to gain momentum, the Rams built a significant lead over the Blues.

Despite early fouls by the Blues’ Sage Usher and strong Rams defense on lead scorer Devin Johnson, U of T was able to keep the game at 24-27 at the end the first quarter. 

The Blues enjoyed an offensive surge from forwards Miroslav Jaksic and Manny Sahota off the bench. In the second quarter, the Rams’ tight defense continued, and the Blues switched to a more traditional line-up with the 6’10” Jaksic matching up with the Rams’ 6’9” centre Kadeem Green.

Despite a slow start, Devin Johnson led the Blues with 10 points to keep the score at 37-40.

With the game tied at 42 at the 2:12 mark, Rams forward Adam Voll recorded a huge block on the Blues’ Devin Williams, leading to a retaliation foul and two made free throws. The Rams used the late surge to maintain their lead at 44-47 heading into the second half.

In the third quarter, Sage Usher was once again benched early on after recording his third foul.

The Blues’ Wilson Torres slashed to the basket for the two points and made his one free throw to make it 49-50 at 8:03.

Ryerson’s Adam Voll recorded a huge dunk off a pick and roll with teammate Aaron Best to swing the momentum once again. From there, the Rams would go on a 10-0 run to make it 49-60. Devin Williams would end the Blues’ scoring drought at 5:45.

The combination of poor shooting and fouls led to a 61-75 deficit for the Blues going into the fourth quarter.   

In the fourth, Devin Johnson continued to be neutralized by the Rams’ big men in the middle and by defensive wing players who were able to keep the Blues’ star player isolated. The Rams strong inside presence forced the Blues to take several contested three pointers by constricting the passing lanes.

Despite his early struggles, Devin Johnson was named player of the game for the Blues with a team leading 19 points. Manny Sahota, Wilson Torres, and Daniel Johansson also scored in double digits for the Blues.

  The Rams’ Roshane Roberts was named player of the game for Ryerson. Ammanuel Diressa and Roberts, who both scored 17 points, and Kadeem Green, who scored 15 points and recorded three blocks, led the Rams to their 79-94 victory.

In a post-game interview, second year Blues guard Oluwaseun Olutogun acknowledged his team’s good ball movement in the first half. Moving forward, he believed the team needed better focus, as well as needing to “stay cleaner” on offense throughout their games. 

The Blues are tied for seventh spot on the OUA leaderboard with Laurentian and Algoma. Ryerson shares the top spot with the Ottawa Gee-Gees.