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New Squamish basketball program bounces into town

Hoop Reel Squamish Basketball Academy offers skills for the court and for life, says head trainer.
With all its outdoor activities, basketball isn't the sport that comes to mind when you say, "Squamish," but a new local program aims to change that. 

Hoop Reel Squamish Basketball Academy's first program was supposed to start last March out of Totem Hall, but then the pandemic shut everything down. 

Thus, the first Hoop Reel sessions for school-age kids started in late October at Brennan Park.

"I could see that there wasn't ... many basketball options, as far as actual high-level training," said Yoni Marmorstein, head trainer and CEO of Reel Hoops of why he wanted to offer basketball in the district. 

Marmorstein has played at the college and professional level and coached for many years. 

He also has a background in documentary film. Players receive video highlights to help with their game as well. 

Local coaches Fred Witzke and Gavin Reis are seniors in high school who want to help grow the game in their community,  Marmorstein said. 

Also lending a hand is Dimitri Kozang, a student at Quest University, and Justin Tucker, who comes up from Vancouver to coach. 

All programs follow COVID-19 protocols. 

These sessions serve as outlets during the pandemic, Marmorstein said. 

"Giving the kids somewhere to go and get out of the house to exercise and all that is really important too," he said. 

So far, about 80 students have participated. 

Sessions for three age groups are underway from now until June for players in grades 4 to 9, including an all-girls program. Summer programs will follow. The plan is to run a camp for younger kids then, Marmorstein said. 

He said that while the coaching is at an elite level, the kids who sign up don't have to be elite players yet.

"That is just about the level of training... we take footwork really seriously, we are really focusing on little details," he said. "Those fundamentals are really what you need at any level." 

He added that newbies are welcome to sign up. 

Marmorstein sees basketball as a way to cultivate lifelong skills, he said. 

He noted that teamwork is key to the game. 

"Basketball is a team sport and there are just so many important life lessons you get from just playing team sports in general."

Marmorstein loved the game growing up on Salt Spring Island, a place, like Squamish, that isn't known for developing basketball stars.

"For kids in Squamish... you can tell they are really into mountain biking, skiing, and snowboarding, and most of the kids in our program do those activities as well. There's just something for me about basketball," he said. 

"It is like basketball and hip hop are correlated in a way. I loved hip hop and basketball growing up, and I kind of idolized these basketball players, and I idolized rappers as well. There's just a cool factor with basketball." 

Previously, he was inspired by a program called Hoops 4 Hope in Africa and made a documentary film about it.

"Basically, they use basketball as a tool to teach life skills in southern Africa, in Zimbabwe," he said. 

"Just that experience, in my coaching in North Van and now in Squamish, it is ingrained in my memory to make sure life skills are kind of the basis of what we are doing on the court. I always say basketball is a vehicle to teach life skills to the kids. There's not going to be too many [kids] who go on and play professionally in the NBA from this area — maybe eventually there will be, and that would be great — but at the same time... If you really work hard and discipline yourself at basketball, those skills are going to translate to succeeding in other aspects of life whenever you decide to stop playing basketball. 

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