M.A.D.E. Toronto Pro Am: ‘a trending development’
Words by Jaspreet Greewal
About a decade ago, it almost seemed unfathomable (or at least unrealistic) for prospective basketball players out of Canada to consider the NBA as a potential career; it wasn’t necessarily due to a lack of talent or an inability to compete amongst the world’s best, but rather a dearth of a platform to showcase their abilities. In recent times, on the contrary, there seems to be a profusion of outlets available for Canadian players to exhibit their talent: basketball camps, tournaments, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) league and even social media (e.g., highlight videos) are some of the more commonly used conduits to get a player’s name out into the mainstream.
One relatively new ‘platform’ that has seemingly permeated into countless cities across North America is the Pro Am league. Although it varies from city-to-city, the Pro Am is an event or league that generally consists of hometown (professional basketball) players competing against each other in a month long tournament. There’s no fixed committee or delegation that represents a single organization; instead, the event is usually coordinated by former basketball players or even followers of the game who have a feverish passion for the sport.
Many cities across North America have evidently adopted the event. We see it in Los Angeles with its own variation of the Pro Am- the Drew League- and we also see it in Seattle with Clippers’ guard Jamal Crawford, as well as in San Francisco and other cities that are considered basketball hubs, but only recently (as of last year) have we witnessed a Toronto Pro Am event, or as league founder and Assistant Coach at the University of Toronto, Sheldon Cassimy, refers to it as, the “M.A.D.E. Toronto Pro Am” league.
Although relatively new to the city, the M.A.D.E Pro Am league has undoubtedly established itself as the epicenter for Toronto basketball talent. There are a multitude of factors that feed into why the Toronto Pro Am is an existing event, but none seem to take priority over the primary reason: to provide an opportunity for players to get noticed.
Essentially, it’s a chance for players to garner attention and, ultimately, get a job playing basketball somewhere, as Coach Cassimy alludes to: “We’ve had a couple of guys recruited by NBL coaches and others who have received National team invites. So, there have definitely been players who have benefited from the M.A.D.E. Toronto Pro Am league.”
The motivation behind Coach Cassimy’s decision to introduce the Pro Am to Toronto was simple.
“It really started from when we trained professional players. We did individual training to enhance their skills or to stay in shape throughout the summer. But we noticed that we didn’t really have a game play that would help to make them better. I mean, you can do all of the drills you want but it means nothing unless it’s being translated to a game situation. So, ultimately, we brought together the highest-level of competition that we felt would help improve players and, of course, land them in higher-competition leagues overseas or even in the NBA.”
The players are usually amassed through a specific selection process. For instance, as Coach Cassimy points out, invitations are typically sent out to professional basketball players who either live in the city or are going to be living in the city throughout the summer (e.g., NBL players): “Generally, we reach out to them and send them invites. There’s also a try out for players who don’t receive invites so that they’re given a chance to play on a big stage and, hopefully, get opportunities to further their careers.”
Although the M.A.D.E. Toronto Pro Am league is only in the preliminary stages of what’s expected to be a relatively large event, it’s easy to see why the younger generation has such a vested interest in the tournament. In a sense, seeing players play – such as former UConn standout, Denham Brown, Michigan alum, Jevohn Shepherd, or former Fordham University Ram, Jermaine Anderson- can have an immeasurable impact on kids who dream of one day playing professionally.
As the game of basketball develops exponentially in Canada, the need for a Pro Am type event is at an all time high in a growing city like Toronto. For Coach Cassimy, the Pro Am is also an opportunity for the younger generation to gain an understanding of basketball beyond high-school and college.
“I think it will definitely help the youth coming up because they’ll be able to see these players and see all of the different places that they play. They’ll be able to aspire to these players or even work to be better than them. It’s important that these kids understand that the NBA isn’t the only way to establish a successful basketball career. There are plenty of guys who are just as successful that play in highly-competitive leagues [overseas] with high-paying jobs.”
In order for there to be a sense of longevity with the M.A.D.E. Pro Am league, it’s imperative for the public to continue providing support. For Cassimy, so long as the event receives sufficient backing from Torontonians and all others who attend, there should be no issue making the tournament a regular (summer) occurrence.
“We just need continued support from the city, the players- especially, different organizations (companies), basically everyone who’s willing to help this event grow.”
Date: June 18th- July 23rd (Every Wednesday)
Time: 6pm start
Location: University of Toronto- St. George Campus (Athletic Centre)
Fee: $5 at the front door
Posted by Drew Ebanks