Making their way down from the beautiful Okanagan, Junior Heat--a major basketball club made up of players from Kamloops, Vernon, Summerland, Kelowna, Penticton, and more--will be sending a U13 girls and U17 PEBL girls team to Bballnationals this August.
The club started seven years ago with only two teams, yet now boasts six teams on the girl's side and 12 on the boys.
Junior Heat coach Bobby Mitchell says this isn't their first rodeo when it comes to Nationals. He brought a team down last year and was very impressed with the venue, the cool swag, and the opportunity to play teams from all over the country at the club level was unlike anything Mitchell had ever experienced before.
"It was great. I was super excited to hear that something like this was going on," he said about last year's tournament. "Every player, and myself included, described it as one of the best club basketball experiences they’ve had.
You know, we competed against a team from Ontario, teams from Alberta, obviously a few BC teams mixed in there. Just a new experience and to see it all tie in and be able to play for a championship with club basketball, for as long as I’ve been doing it, is something I think was long overdue."
Mitchell emphasized that every player and parent's feedback from the tournament last year was they want to go back. And so, they will be sending the Okanagan's best this time around.
"The team I coach is our U17 PEBL team," said Mitchell. "So we’ve participated in what’s called the Prairie Elite Basketball League this spring and summer. That’s our top U17 team. It’s one of the best teams I’ve had the pleasure of coaching in the club experience. And they did very well in the Prairie league. We went 5-2, which is the best a junior team has done."
He says the girls are excited to play at a National level and to see where they stand against teams from Ontario, Alberta, and others within BC.
Like other club coaches from around the country, Mitchell agrees that Bballnationals has helped to significantly grow basketball in Canada.
"I think it’s done two things: it’s grown the sport. You know, now what I’ve noticed is you have club teams playing a little bit longer, so it’s kind of developed the sport. More kids get to play. And when there’s an end game, it kind of gives closure to the club season," he said.
As a fifth-year lead assistant coach at UBCO, Mitchell says the tournament is the perfect recruiting opportunity, too.
"This brings everybody together and speaking from a university coach standpoint, what a great environment to recruit and to see some of the top players from all across the country in one building or two buildings, whatever it may be, I definitely think it’s grown basketball and will continue to grow basketball in all the communities."
Good luck to both teams from the Junior Heat this year at Bballnationals! Interested in bringing your own club team? Be sure to check out the tournament website to register before all of the spots fill up!
Written by: Crystal Scuor