Whenever a new program starts out, there’s always anxiety about how it’s going to go.
Basketball NWT had that feeling about the Junior NBA program in its inaugural season in Yellowknife but it ended up being unfounded.
The first season came to an end on Sunday, closing out a program which was, according to Cole Marshall, Basketball NWT’s technical director, a huge success.
He said a total of 28 youth between the ages of five through seven signed up to play and the season went even better than expected.
“I haven’t really worked with young, young kids too much so there was always that feeling of not knowing what to expect,” he said. “Canada Basketball provided us with the outline and we just went with it. It was amazing.”
Junior NBA is essentially a miniature version of basketball with nets lowered to two metres, as opposed to the regulation height of three. The basketballs themselves are also smaller, making them easier to handle and work with on the court.
Marshall said most of the programs drills dealt with learning by playing, ‘tricking’ the youth into thinking they were simply playing a game and not knowing it would help them in their development.
“It’s much different from a standard program,” he said.
“With the Steve Nash Youth Basketball program, you can get the kids to sit for a couple of minutes, show them a drill and off they go.
“With Junior NBA, the kids are a lot younger so you don’t have a lot of time to teach and everything has to be shown quicker. You just hope they can retain what you’ve showed them.”
An example of just how much the kids wanted to simply play basketball was the amount of times Marshall had to remind them not to dribble and run around while he was trying to explain a drill.
“I think I had to say ‘hold the ball’ about 10,000 times,” he joked.
As is the case when new programs start out, the level of play isn’t up to where it should or could be but Marshall said it was all about progression and that progression was obvious on the final day.
“The kids weren’t hitting a lot of shots at the start of it all,” he said. “But we had a scrimmage against the parents on the last day and the kids were whipping them good and were hitting plenty of shots from all over.”
The hope is that Junior NBA will be able to run alongside the GO-Ball program, which is for girls only. Junior NBA was thought of by Basketball NWT as a way for boys aged 5-7 to get in the front door, so to speak; GO-Ball already had programming in town for girls aged 5-7.
Marshall said the program isn’t exclusively for boys as there were some girls who played Junior NBA.
“There’s no real conflict with GO-Ball,” he said. “It was great to have girls take part because it’s only going to improve on what’s already happening. Girls youth basketball really wasn’t on the radar a few years back and GO-Ball did a great job tapping into that age group.”
Season two for Junior NBA is already in the works with Marshall saying that the interest is there from parents.
“Some of them were asking me if there’s a spring program being offered,” he said. “Obviously, it went over well because if they hated it, they wouldn’t have come back. We want them to love the game of basketball.”