Two Yellowknife basketball rising stars have signed for the 2021 Ontario USport season.
Janet Rose and Mali Straker have been playing Yellowknife basketball since they were kids. Now, entering their first year of university in the fall, the pair will hit the courts as Golden Hawks and Voyageurs joining Wilfred Laurier and Laurentian universities, respectively.
Being successfully scouted is no easy feat at the best of times, but Rose and Straker’s recruitment is made even more impressive by the shortage of free spots the pandemic has caused for the upcoming season.
Due to Covid-19, and the USport 20-21 season being cancelled, existing rosters aren’t losing a year of eligibility, which means fewer graduates from teams and fewer spots for rookies.
Aaron Wells, who has been coaching basketball in Yellowknife for over a decade, said, “You could tell from a young age that (Rose and Straker) had a competitive nature about them and a seriousness about wanting to get better.
“That translated in games and practices and really whatever they needed to do on the basketball court,” Wells said. “As they grew, you could tell that to improve their game they needed a better level of competition more regularly.”
Both Straker and Rose moved south to pursue that level of competition during grades 11 and 12. Straker spent her final high school years as a student in Calgary while Rose moved first to Victoria before joining Straker in Calgary as well.
“At a certain point, I had to make the decision to move just so that I can get that exposure and play games against girls that also have the motivation to play post-secondary,” Straker said.
Outside of school and training camps, there is only one women’s basketball team, the U19 Eagles, where Yellowknife women can compete. The team takes on competitors in the Yellowknife Basketball Association (YKBA) Women’s League, and, in non-Covid years, travels to compete in other parts of the country. At a certain point, however, Rose and Straker agree they needed to be immersed with players more committed to the game.
Still, the duo’s decision to move away doesn’t make them any less proud of their Yellowknife roots.
Rose expressed particular gratitude to organizations like Sport North, with whom she earned the high-performance athlete grant to fund much of her competition. She also thanked her coaches through the years and the Yellowknife community at large for “encouraging (her) since day one.”
“There are some disadvantages,” she said about being a competitive athlete in a small city like Yellowknife, “but it is such a community that is pushing you and is there for you and is so proud. I wouldn’t want to be from anywhere else.”
Rose and Straker, training through the winter, aim to continue to make Yellowknife proud when they step onto the university courts in the fall.
“I just want to show that I belong there,” Straker said. “I want to surprise the girls once I’m there, and how good I can be, how competitive I am.”
The impact the two are having on the Yellowknife community, Wells said, is probably more than they realize.
“Whether those girls know it or not, the fact that they’re playing college basketball and are going to be talked about makes a big impact on the younger girls who see that you can make it to that higher level,” he said.
“Obviously the whole basketball community is super proud of them,” he said. “Kudos to them for having a goal and making the sacrifices necessary to achieve it.”