The road to the Canada Summer Games in Niagara Region, Ont., has begun for Basketball NWT.
At least the initial stretch of road, anyway.
The first of two sets of tryouts for the boys and girls teams are in the books as they happened this past weekend at St. Pat’s gymnasium. It was a chance for head coaches Aaron Wells and Matt Craig to get a glimpse of who could possibly make up the final rosters when the Games begin in August.
For the girls side, a team will actually come together this time; there was no squad for the 2017 Games due to a lack of available players to make the trip to Winnipeg.
Wells said it was a long but fun weekend.
“We had high numbers and that was good to see,” he said. ‘The pandemic may have helped with that with people looking for something to get involved with but there’s been a lot of good things happening in the communities with grassroots basketball and no one looked out of place at all. That’s going to lead to making some tough decisions.”
On the boys side, Craig said this first group of players was perhaps the most athletic he’s ever worked with.
“They’re itching to play some hoops,” he said. “I can remember the first time I was an assistant coach for the Western Canada Summer Games and we literally took the 12 kids who showed up, which was unfortunate, but basketball has grown immensely in the NWT and that’s because we have people doing a lot of good work.”
Both sets of players were put through fitness and playing drills over the course of the weekend, all while being graded by a group of evaluators, which included Wells and Craig. Other evaluators included Ryan Barbeau, a former coach at the University of Ottawa who now calls Aklavik home, and Mark Matheson, a former college-level player at the universities of P.E.I. and New Brunswick.
“Mark just moved here and he’s worked with the Spartans (high performance) boys and Ryan has a lot of great experience,” said Craig. “I’m excited about having their expertise and having them around.”
Both coaches have put together what’s known as “ghost rosters,” which describes players who have one foot in the door toward the final roster, but they aren’t yet fully on the team. The final roster decisions won’t be made until the second tryout camp in May.
“We split up the camps, in part, because of spring break around the NWT,” said Craig. “We don’t want to exclude anyone from trying out, and so Aaron and I are carrying players over to the second camp and those who couldn’t make it to the first one will still get a full shot at making the team.”
Wells said the second camp would be a chance for skill development for those who attended the first camp.
“The only requirement was for players to commit to one camp,” he said. “We’ve invited everyone who came out to the first one back (to the second one) for development sessions because they’ve already been evaluated.”
The numbers for the second camp aren’t yet finalized, but Wells said he knows one thing: the final decisions will be tough ones to make.
“You never want to tell anyone no, but it’s a part of the job,” he said. “The level is really high around the NWT right now and it’s a good problem to have but (Matt and I) know we have to make the difficult choices.”
The final rosters for both clubs will have 12 players with three alternates for each.