Unlike many athletes coming from athletic families, Mathushan Srikannathasan started his basketball journey late at the age of 10 and professional basketball at 13.
To this day, his parents have never seen him play. They’ve seen the trophies, the MVP awards, and his picture on UTM’s Athletic Awards Ceremony pamphlet, but have yet to attend a game. Although Srikannathasan believes his parents are very supportive, driving him to games and practices, he didn’t grow up with the athletic parental support like most peers. “I had to figure out the [basketball] side of things on my own. I didn’t have anyone telling me what to do,” says Srikannathasan. And he did, waking up at 4 a.m. multiple days a week and re-watching full basketball games over meals as a high school student.
Today, Srikannathasan is one of the greatest UTM Eagle athletic program has ever had the pleasure of developing. He’s worked at every student leader position, from official to tournament convenor, and played at every student-athlete level. The underdog from Milton, Ontario, now trains aspiring young teenage athletes, university level and Division 1 athletes, to NBA professionals.
Srikannathasan was recruited out of high school to be a part of UTM’s first-ever Men’s Basketball team, which had their inaugural season in 2017. But getting into UTM took a little more work for the young athlete. Out of grade 12, although he got into UTM, Srikannathasan missed out on attending his first choice, McMaster University, by a single grade per cent. He took the year off, went to an adult school, and upgraded his high-school marks. The following year he got into McMaster, and UTM for a second time. However, an old high school basketball friend convinced him to give UTM a shot.
“I’d be playing with him, and he’d tell me that UTM was getting a varsity team. He offered to talk to the coach for me. I was upgrading my high-school marks, but I was still training, I was staying ready,” says Srikannathasan. The coach invited Srikannathasan out to a couple of workouts over the summer. By September, he was a member of UTM’s first Men’s Basketball team embarking on their inaugural season in the OCAA, and on his way to pursuing a double major in Biology and Psychology.
This was also Srikannathasan’s first step to becoming one of the school’s most experienced and versatile student leaders: a UTM Eagle through and through.
He was one of the few true rookies on UTM’s first varsity basketball team who had the opportunity play a decent amount, on a team with many strong upper-year athletes. But it was often difficult. He received limited playing time, came off the bench, and at times his confidence in his ability wavered. Nevertheless, Srikannathasan left it all on the court game after game. “I was a good back-up,” he says. “I was playing 16 or 18 minutes a game. At the very least, six.”
It may not seem like much, but Srikannathasan takes pride in the fact that he never had a DNP (Did Not Play) next to his name in his rookie season. To him, this meant that even if his coach didn’t think he was good some days, he still played him—always checked him into the ball game. Some of his teammates weren’t so fortunate.
Srikannathasan’s school involvement quickly extended beyond his varsity games and practices and to a leadership role. Former Intramurals Coordinator, now Community Outreach Officer, Cameron Walker, recruited Srikannathasan to get involved with campus intramurals. Three months into his first year, he was a referee and scorekeeper. Walker saw Srikannathasan’s potential as a student leader and encouraged him to take on more responsibility. In the summer after he finished his first year at UTM, Walker approached Srikannathasan about taking on the summer League Commissioner for UTM’s Summer Intramural Leagues.
After a successful first year, Srikannathasan embraced the new challenges of his second year as a university student-athlete and all of its demands. “It was a busy year. I was the Tournament Convener at UTM athletics, still playing on the Varsity team, and taking more classes. It was a heavy load, but like all students [I just] had to figure it out.” And he did, which led to his busiest summer yet and the most significant turning point in his university career.
Srikannathasan was recruited yet again by Walker, to work at UTM’s Camp U of T’s children’s summer camp as a counselor and basketball camp instructor. In addition to camp, Srikannathasan lead campus tours for regular students, student-athletes, and parents. Srikannathasan continued to be asked to take on larger roles: helping out with summer leagues, tournaments, and other commissioners for different sports. It was an amazing experience that saw Srikannathasan, in only two years at UTM, in almost every student leader athletic role.
After working with UTM Athletics and Camp U of T, Srikannathasan was inspired to pursue his childhood dream of becoming a basketball trainer. Srikannathasan feels like he’s been training since he was 13, the only difference being he was training himself and letting others jump in and workout with him. However, at a young age, Srikannathasan discovered he had a gift for teaching others, but his only focus was on himself: to be the best player he could be. As athletes who’ve trained with him will say, he’s always been one to focus on the details, editing and fixing form, and footwork of those who came out to work out with him.
In August of 2019, going into his third year at UTM, he tackled that goal. He and his friend worked together to create a logo and a page, and what had once been a “maybe someday” dream became Underdog Athletics, a basketball training business he now runs with his older brother. Srikannathasan is appreciative of the unity and support of the UTM community as he establishes his business. “The fact that there are people that support you, that believe in you, even if a little, means so much to me.”
Srikannathasan took a year off from playing varsity during the 2019-2020 school year, deciding instead to focus on school and growing Underdog Athletics. “I started with some local UTM guys, which was good just to get my feet wet. I also took on a couple of kids from camp [Camp UofT] that I worked with during basketball camp. Towards the end of the summer camp, I continued to train two kids from the group. One of them is one of my most consistent and regular athletes. He’s going to his very first rep tryout soon.”
In addition to school, working, and participating in Intramurals, Srikannathasan trained anyone who was willing. And though traditionally a guard, he trains athletes in every position on the basketball floor. “I trained people from all over, CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport), OCAA Division 1, Division 2, and two professionals. A bunch of different kids as well, from high school kids to elementary kids, and it just started growing from there. Now I shadow NBA trainers.” Srikannathasan has also worked with the Brampton Warriors, the Junior NBA, and helped out with UTM’s women’s Varsity basketball team as a trainer and team scout. UTM has been huge help in expanding the reach of business and creating connections with established trainers he hopes to learn from.
“Through UTM, I’ve met some of the best people in my life. There are so many opportunities out there if you look for them. And so many people to meet, and so many connections to make,” says Srikannathasan about his experience at the university. “I’ve met some of the most important people in my life through athletics here at UTM. I’ve met people that to this day, are still reposting my stuff, people I met first year. They’re reposting my stuff, they’re sharing and commenting, which for a guy with his own business is massive.”
In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic threw everyone off. For Srikannathasan, it was the catalyst that cemented his future as a basketball trainer and one of the greatest UTM Eagles of all time. “I took two months to just stop and breathe. I worked on myself, got my mind right, and got my body right, while keeping my body in shape.” After a brief pause, he went right back to work.
While businesses stalled, Underdog Athletics flourished. With gyms closed, he took athletes outside, running small group sessions on hills, on outdoor basketball courts, and out of his garage. As pandemic restrictions loosened, he booked indoor court space. Under his mentor, Mississauga legendary trainer David Tyndale, Srikannathasan helps runs workouts with NBA professionals, including Dylan Brooks of the Memphis Grizzles and Corey Joseph of the Sacramento Kings. But Srikannathasan couldn’t care less about how good of an athlete you are or what what level you play at. As long as you’re willing to put in the work, he’ll be ready to work with you.
Srikannathasan sees himself as a kind of middle child, in the middle of two different generations. A generation that’s looking back for help and guidance, and a generation that’s chasing the successful road ahead of them. He’s revered by his peers as being very detailed and technical when it comes to the game of basketball. He’s relatable, personable, and patient. Moreover, his love for the game is prominent. “I love the game so much that I can’t do anything else. If I can’t play, training and coaching is the closest thing. I’m a junkie for this stuff. I watch highlights. I watch full games over and over. If you ask anyone that comes to my house, highlights are always playing. I watch highlights like I’m studying film.”
Once a diligent student of the game, Srikannathasan sees himself as a teacher. A teacher he wishes he had when he was younger. Now, he wants to make players better. “I’m telling players the right things, like not to drop their heads when they miss a shot. I’m there with them, right away telling them to keep their heads up because there’s another shot coming their way.”
Covid-19 has put a hold to his plans of playing for UTM’s varsity basketball team in his final year, but Srikannathasan is determined to leave his mark in other ways. He’s continued to train UTM athletes, running his own workouts in addition to training UTM students through UTMAC. Besides training full-time when he graduates, Srikannathasan has his sights set on coaching for UTM’s Varsity basketball team as a head coach and guiding a generation of hard-working athletes.
“I think too many people settle for average. The same people will say you should enjoy your four years of university because the next 40 is going to be rough. I don’t believe that,” says Srikannathasan. He wants his legacy at UTM to be the example he sets, by never shying away from hard work. “I wasn’t the most talented, and I wasn’t the most recruited. [However,] I worked hard, I worked smart, and made something of what I had. And I’ve had fun doing it because you also have to live life. I just hope I inspired people to do what they want, to strive for greatness not only for themselves and but for others.”