Raptors’ first title expected to increase interest in basketball around Saskatchewan

Brandon Harder/Regina Leader-Post Fans cheer as it becomes apparent that the Toronto Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors during game 6 of the NBA finals as it was being viewed on the large replay screen at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.

In the middle of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Canada went hoops crazy.

Packed crowds at outdoor viewing parties, including ones at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, became the norm over the last week as the Toronto Raptors captured their first National Basketball Association title in franchise history on Thursday night over the Golden State Warriors.

The Raptors’ run to the title was certainly a huge talking point in Prince Albert, especially for those that have chatted with Prince Albert Community Basketball Association coordinator Derek Smith.

“I’ve had a lot of people come up to me over the last month saying that they had never watched basketball before and that they were watching all of the Raptors games,” Smith said.

“To see them make history should certainly help the sport for sure and it should also generate interest in the sport for younger kids.”

The team’s quest to becoming the first franchise outside of the United States to hoist the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy was also a major talking point around the halls of Carlton Comprehensive High School and St. Mary High School.

“It’s been really nice to see the amount of students and staff that have been talking about basketball,” Carlton senior boys’ basketball head coach Tim Strom said. “There’s a lot more interest now and it should certainly pump the numbers when it comes to players here in Prince Albert.”

“When you have a sport where the interest just takes off, you end up seeing a lot more people wanting to be a part of it, which I think is what you’ll see around here when our tryouts start up,” St. Mary senior girls’ basketball head coach Dwayne Gareau added.

“There are so many different pathways in sports and with people seeing this run for the Raptors through television and social media, there’s a sense of  ‘I want to try that. Look how awesome it is.’ It’s up to us as coaches to help and sustain those number of years to come.”

The effect of the Raptors’ success has already been felt around the province with an increase in numbers for the summer programs that are put on by Basketball Saskatchewan.

“We run quite a large program through the Junior NBA program through Canada Basketball that helps to introduce the sport to those in between Grades 3 through 7 and we’re anticipating a 25 to 30 percent increase in our numbers,” Basketball Saskatchewan executive director Megan Penno said. “The interest in basketball is quite strong throughout the province, but I think more people are starting to realize just how big it is with the Raptors success and with the Saskatchewan Rattlers currently in their first season in the new Canadian Elite Basketball League.

“Having a team in Saskatoon really helps to expose our younger players to what opportunities are out there for them at the next level. When they see a Canadian player (Chris Boucher) on the Raptors bench when they won, it allows them to dream bigger and bigger.”

The increased interest in the sport has also taken place in Prince Albert, as the PACBA has seen their numbers increase from 50 athletes to over 250 over the last five years.

“I think a lot of that has to do with what the Raptors have done in making it to the playoffs and having strong seasons before winning the title last night,” Smith said. “The growth has been immense here and it should continue when our new club season gets underway this fall.

“Plus, we have the outdoor courts that have just opened up at the Alfred Jenkins Fieldhouse, which gives people even more chances to get out on the court.”

Those who are looking for more information on the Prince Albert Community Basketball Association can visit paminorbasketball.teampages.com or e-mail paminorbasketball@gmail.com

The Rattlers, who play out of the SaskTel Centre, are second in the CEBL standings with a 6-3 record ahead of a road game next Friday against the Niagara River Lions.

They will be back home to face the Fraser Valley Bandits on Thursday, June 27 and will host the league’s inaugural championship weekend from Friday, Aug. 23 to Sunday, Aug. 25 in Saskatoon.