Coach Amaker, back-roll centre, with Toronto Community Housing staff and youth.
Whoever said "Don't meet your idol in person" had the wrong heroes.
On November 15, more than 90 participants of the Midnight Basketball League (MBL), including coaches and players, converged at the University of Toronto's athletes lounge to meet Tommy Amaker, former Duke University point guard and the current head coach of the Harvard University men's basketball team. Amaker's visit was part of the MBL weekly workshop for its coaches and players.
Just before the program started, several youth in the room could be heard chatting and seen googling on their smart phones to learn more about Coach Amaker.
"Whoa, is that him with a dope slam dunk?" One of the youth asked.
"What a legend!" Another youth said.
Delano Anderson, coach of the Brahms community team, couldn't hide his joy. He said having a top college basketball coach to speak to the youth means a lot to everyone.
"These guys think you have to go to the United States to be noticed because there's only one Canadian team in the NBA. However, right now in Toronto, we have some of the best schools and players in basketball. To have Harvard's head coach here gives the players the confidence that they can be recruited from here," Anderson said.
Coach Amaker is widely known as one of the most successful basketball players turned coaches in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). He's also recognized as a great teacher with passion for mentoring young people and for community development. Although an American, Amaker knows Toronto well enough. He successfully recruited several basketball players from the city including Christopher Egi, Harvard's 2018 commencement speaker.
"As a coach, one of the things that matters to me is to be able to teach, lead and to serve," Coach Amaker told the youth. "If you can do these three things then you are doing well in life and more importantly, doing some good."
Coach Amaker meets and greets MBL players who are also youth living in Toronto Community Housing.
Coach Amaker told the youth that while it's important to work hard in order for them to be successful, as a basketball player or as a coach, they should strive to contribute to the development of their communities with the aim of inspiring other people. The coach shared his story of growing up and the challenges he had to overcome. He also spoke about Mike Krzyzewski, the current head coach of Duke University men's basketball team. As a coach and a mentor, Krzyzewski had a positive influence on Amaker as a student. Coach Amaker encouraged the MBL players to listen and learn from their coaches.
For those who want to become professional basketball players, Coach Amaker urged them to plan for their dream by taking their academics just as serious as their daily basketball drills.
"It's okay to have a dream or to have a goal. The question though is do you have a plan to achieve your dreams," Amaker asked the youth. "You may know where you want to be; however, it's also important to know how to get there."
Selongee and Anthony, two of the youth present at the workshop, said meeting Coach Amaker was the highlight of their MBL participation. They commended Toronto Community Housing staff for giving them the opportunity to meet one of their idols in the sport.
"I've always wanted to be a coach. Listening to the coach has inspired me to push harder, learn more about the game and develop the habit of giving back to my community," said Solongee.
For Anthony, listening to Amaker's personal story and the ones he told about his players who overcome adversity to become better basketball players inspires him to believe anything is possible.
"My biggest takeaway is that as a young player, I have to be always ready for success because you never know when your opportunity might come to step-up and make other people proud of you. So it's important to keep on pushing through any adversity we may face in life."
Midnight Basketball League (MBL) is one of several Toronto Community Housing's programs that aims to support the physical and intellectual development of young people living its communities across the city of Toronto. The MBL provides an inclusive space for youth to showcase their basketball skills and learn about life, under the guidance of community coaches and seasoned mentors. The communities participating in the fall 2019 MBL season are Brahms, Cooper Mills, Lawrence Heights, Mabelle, Trethewey and Trimbee.