On Saturday, January 19th the Raptors 905, Let’s Get Together!, and the National Basketball Youth Mentorship Program hosted From the Playground to the NBA, an interactive learning event for parents and their young basketball players, to celebrate mentors and mentees as part of National Mentorship Month.

Let’s Get Together! is a not-for-profit organization, whose mission is to help create opportunities to value learning and to encourage supportive parental involvement. The National Basketball Youth Mentorship Program (NBYMP), strives to be a mentorship platform to use the game of basketball to positively impact the lives of young athletes, by providing the resources they need to be successful on and off the court.

On a frigid afternoon, families from around the GTA gathered at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre (formerly the Hershey Centre) to watch the Raptors 905, the Toronto Raptors G-League affiliate team, as they took on the Greensboro Swarm.

Young athletes and their families were treated to an exciting game between two teams of up and coming future NBA stars. It was a low scoring affair to begin the first half of the game, which saw highlight dunks and blocks by Raptors 905 two-way contract player Chris Boucher. And a shower of threes from guard, Jordan Howard, and forward, Malachi Richardson. The Raptors 905 took a 58 to 48 lead over the Swarm.

Following half-time performances by talented youth dance groups, the Swarm came out of the locker room to begin the second half with ferocity. But hustle plays for rebounds, steals, and a highlight reverse dunk by Boucher saw the Raptor lead balloon to nearly 20 leading in the final quarter. The Raptors withstand one last push by the Swarm to take the game 109 to 103.

In its second year running, From Playground to the NBA did much more than bring young basketball fans and their families for an entertaining afternoon. The event allowed youth and their parents hear from Raptor 905 players: guard Duane Notice, forward Myck Kabongo, and assistant coach, Charlse Dube-Brais, and their families, on their personal stories of challenges and success.

Following the game, and short meet and greet where fans could interact with the players, Notice, Kabongo with their mothers, and Dube-Brais with his wife, sat down for an intimate discussion about mentorship and sport.

As one might think, it takes a lot to become that kid on the playground to getting paid to play the game you love. It takes a lot of sacrifice.

“It can be hard. Not being able to go to every party, or to miss that family event or holiday, because you have a practice, or a game, or you’re on the road,” said Notice. Dube-Brais, his wife and two small children under the age of three, have lived in a variety of countries across the world in only three years. That sounds like a lot of work, and a lot stress, but Dube-Brais doesn’t see it that way. “It doesn’t really feel like work, when you love what you do, when you’re passionate about it,” he says.

Obviously, players and coaches sacrifice a lot of time and effort to reach this stage in their professional careers. But we can’t forget the individuals who have helped them, and continue to help them become successful. “I was the only girl in the house,” said Notice’s mom Suzette. “There was always competition. And there was basketball everywhere: outside, the living room, the kitchen, the basement, in the hallways when the boys should be sleeping.” To support him in his goals and in his dream to play basketball, Suzette researched all the best programs and training opportunities for her son. Often spending countless hours on the road driving Duane to practice, games, and the like nationwide.

Dube-Brais’ wife, Cyriele, has traveled with her husband from France, to China, and now Toronto, to support him in his coaching career. “In France, I was a director of communications for a large company. But I left all that to support Charles. I’ve had to learn to adapt, and I think that’s a good thing,” she says.

Despite their children being so young and having already moved around so much, Dube-Brais believes his children will have developed a strong foundation. “They speak French, and are learning English. They were even learning Chinese when we were in China,” says Dube-Brais.

In terms of learning and growing as a player, feedback and criticism is what Notice and Kabongo believe to be a crucial part to not only reaching the next level, but achieving your full potential.

“Before and after games we sometimes go over film. Coach will show me all the things I did well, but also all the things I did that I could do better and how. Constructive criticism is very important if you want to be a successful basketball player,” says Notice.

“You’re not the only one who has a story,” says Kabongo. “Usually the people who are giving you feedback and constructive criticism, they’re telling it to you for a reason. I didn’t always like listening, especially when I was kid and it got me in trouble. Now that I’m an adult I know better. You don’t only need to receive it, you need to be willing to apply it, that’s the other part.”

Foundation and parenting is important, especially when you’re raising student-athletes. “Your body is your tool,” says Nene Kabongo, Myck’s mother. “You need it to be successful. And for that to happen you need to take care of it, by eating right and the like. And you need to protect it.”

Alison Canning, the Executive Director of not-for-profit Let’s Get Together!, and parent of a young basketball player, was ecstatic with the overwhelmingly positive responses to the event. “It was incredible to see all the faces (even the young ones) in the listening intently to what the families had to say and learn for over an hour. Today we gave parents and their children an opportunity to change and do better,” she said. Canning also mentions that there is a commitment by the Raptors 905 organization to replicate an event such as this again next year.

Overall, From the Playground to the NBA was a great success, all thanks to the collaborative efforts of Let’s Ge Together!, the National Basketball Youth Mentorship Program, and supporting organizations, the Mississauga Sports Council, Ontario Basketball Association and the University of Toronto Mississauga’s Center for Student Engagement.