Thriving in a new environment is hard for most athletes. The pressure that comes with learning to gel with a new team and adopt a new style of play can hinder a player’s success. Manvinder Sahota is not one of those players. The second-year UTM physics and environmental science student and shooting guard for the Varsity Blues is entering his second year on the team and bringing experience and talent to the court.

Born in Adampur, India, Sahota, known on the team as “Manny”, came to Canada in 1996 and grew up in Brampton. During his days in elementary school, Sahota was inspired by his older brother Jaspreet to improve his game, and began to take basketball seriously. While attending St. Marguerite d’Youville high school in Brampton, Sahota was invited to play in the all-Canadian national high school all-star game. Averaging 20 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks a game in his final season of his high school career, Sahota was named top forward in Ontario and high school athlete of the year by the Toronto Star.

Sahota was called to an all-Canadian prospects camp where he was recruited by Nat Graham, scout and current assistant coach of the Boston College Eagles basketball team. At the end of his high school career, Sahota was offered a spot at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where he played forward during the 2010/11 season. Sahota was forced to sit out the 2011/12 season due to injury. It was after this sophomore year at Cornell that Sahota decided to come back to his hometown. “My experience at Cornell was amazing. I gained a lot of knowledge and really grew as a scholar, athlete, and person,” says Sahota. “I transferred over to continue playing the sport I love [and to] be closer to my family.”

He believes that playing for the Blues while attending UTM is important in gaining discipline: “It’s like I’m in two different worlds, it really helps me focus, to separate and balance my studies and my athletic responsibilities,” says Sahota.

Sahota observed some obvious differences between the CIS and the NCAA. “Size, physicality, and speed is at a higher level in the NCAA,” he says. He believes the CIS is on its way to matching the NCAA’s intensity and cultivating a larger basketball following. “Basketball culture and culture around sports in general is ample in the States; there’s just way more craze and passion surrounding it over there,” he adds. “Though basketball culture in Canada is growing exponentially.”

Another reason Sahota decided to come back to Canada was to spearhead a project with two of his friends: the Live Long Health Group. The Brampton-based LLHG focuses on community fitness initiatives and the development of basketball performance. “[It] was initially started as a youth and high school basketball program to give back to the community,” says Sahota. “[Especially] because the Ontario government cut a lot of funding for after-school high school programs in the public sector, which left many kids without athletic programs. We felt that was taking away from a great opportunity these kids should have.”

With almost 200 kids attending the youth programs, which include a men’s basketball league with eight teams, a women’s fitness program, and nightly drop-in basketball, Sahota and his friends Manjot and Sunny Sangha are fostering healthy living in their community. “The reception has been great—a lot of positive feedback,” says Sahota, who is looking to increase the number of programs available.

 As the Varsity Blues basketball season gets underway, Sahota has shown fans that there is a lot to look forward to. During preseason action, Sahota has lead the Blues in points in three of the seven games, while putting up consistently great numbers every night. “We have a lot of talent from top to bottom on our roster,” he says. “Our chances all depend on how well we perform during each game and I look forward to the challenges we will face this season.”

Sahota and the Varsity Blues opened the season with back-to-back games against the McMaster Marauders, losing 75-96, and the Brock University Badgers, winning 93-85, to start the season 1-1.

Student can catch Sahota and the Varsity Blues in action at the St. George Athletic Centre on November 8 when the Blues take on Wilfrid Laurier, and on November 9 when they face the University of Waterloo.