The Toronto Raptors first-ever NBA finals appearance is historic for the 24-year-old franchise, for basketball in Toronto and across Canada --- from the grassroots level on up.
St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) also has a hand in the Raptors’ success when it comes to growing the game.
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The school has been developing young basketball talent at the middle and high school level through its intramural and varsity basketball programme.
“St. Michael’s has always been an influencer in the game of basketball in Toronto beginning with the great coach Dan Prendergast,” says Leo Rautins ’78, current TSN and Sportsnet Raptors broadcast analyst.
“He (Prendergast) is widely regarded as one of the best high school coaches, not only in Toronto, but Canada. And as Canada’s first-first round NBA pick. I can say coach had a major impact in my life & helped me immensely, as he did many others, achieve my sports and life goals!”
Rautins was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1983. He attended SMCS for grades 9-12, playing basketball under the tutelage of Prendergast, a teacher-coach at SMCS for 27 years, who passed away in 2015 at age 80.
“The arrival of the NBA in Toronto/Canada changed the course of basketball in this country,” says Rautins. “And with this, kids now had a team and players to follow and idolize, inspiring kids across the country,” he says.
“The growth of the game has been happening increasingly since the Steve Nash era,” says Jeff Zownir, teacher and head basketball coach for 19 years at SMCS. “Kids in Canada can see the path into the NBA and they want to play year-round and play the toughest teams in the United States.”
While Canadian talent is spread out across the country, Zownir believes the growth of basketball comes from the hot-bed of both Toronto and SMCS.
“I’ve had Division I schools tell me they watch our players all the time via live stream at the SMCS tournaments (of which started as early as 1917). They definitely get a lot of attention.”
The proof has come in a host of recent SMCS basketball products.
“We’re the only school in the world to have four students play in the U-17 World Championship: Duane Notice ‘12, Malcom Duvivier ‘13, Nelson Kaputo ‘15 and Danilo Djuricic ‘17,” says Zownir.
For their part, alumni cherish and appreciate the coaching and instruction they received at SMCS, both on and off the basketball court.
Duane Notice ’12, a guard for the Raptors 905, told an audience of over 300 student-athletes and guests at this year’s SMCS Athletic Banquet, “This institution (SMCS) has taught me that sports and education go hand in hand. Don’t take this moment for granted.”
Fellow alumnus, Danilo Djuricic ’17, currently studying economics and playing basketball at Harvard adds, “St. Michael’s has been very important in my life.”
While Canadian basketball has come a long way in 24 years since the Raptors were born, schools such as SMCS and other organizations can still be doing more according to Rautins.
“Open the gyms, develop the coaches, coach the kids, compete in the best leagues, and never lose the idea of developing the student, person, and the player!”