Raptors 905 Ready to Go in Mississauga
Over the past few years, the Toronto sports market has been reinvigorated by the welcome success of the Raptors and Blue Jays. While people from Mississauga typically cheer for the teams that represent their close eastern neighbour, there's always been a thirst for another (and possibly more local) team to get behind.
Enter Raptors 905, a brand new NBA Development League team set to kick off its inaugural season in Mississauga this month. We recently sat down with John Wiggins, the director of team operations, to chat about the players, the year ahead and how a sports team will benefit the city.
*The interview has been edited for length
Raptors 905 is new, correct? What inspired its creation?
Absolutely. It's brand new.
We kind of started to see this movement of basketball exploding in the country. The Raptors have some very talented and young players that they want to develop. They started to do a little more research on the development league in late 2014, early 2015. They started to see and understand the benefits of a program that they can assign and dedicate their players to that would allow them to learn and play, where they might not get the same opportunities with the big team. It kind of creates a plan forward for how these guys can get up and ready [for the pros], maybe even in the next couple of years. So they kind of approached us when we were The Power at the time just to say, "we see your operation here and we love the proximity [to Toronto]." The infrastructure that's here was something that made it very easy to put [a program] in place instead of building an entire franchise from scratch. So, through those discussions over the course of the spring and summer, we were able to negotiate and hash out a deal that works for everybody that's now Raptors 905.
How do you find players?
We had the open tryout back in September at UTM. What happens is these players are actually signed to the league as opposed to a team. The NBA Development League office will receive applications from players and put them into player pool by which teams can be selected. You've got open tryouts and you've got players who are signed down from their parent team, in this case the Toronto Raptors. So that's the makeup of where all our guys come from.
Raptors 905 gaurd Shannon Scott.
What are your plans for the season?
I think right now, the biggest thing is awareness. It's important to get people familiar with the fact that the Hershey Centre is a place a place for basketball. A lot of it will be a heavy presence on social media because that's the kind of demographic we're after. We are looking at peel region signage and promotion and most important is going to be the community engagement that we're going to have now that the final roster has been selected. We're going to have our guys out there, as that's proven in this market to be the best way to spread the word and educate people about what's going on. Obviously there's going to be a partnership with the Raptors, so you'll see our information tagged along with their games and broadcasts.
Can you explain the community work?
This week is actually junior NBA week and we're going to go out to a school or a drop-in program and put on NBA clinic featuring two or three of our players for about 35 to 50 kids. They're going to get a t-shirt and basketball instructions and get to meet the players. It kind of kicks it all off, but it's something you'll see consistently throughout the year. We'll be doing school appearances, working with the city of Mississauga with respect to beefing up some of their drop-in basketball programs and skills and development programs because that's something that they're looking to increase. Over the summer, you'll see us at all of those fun festivals and activities.
Do you think the Raptors recent success sparked interest? Is it similar to the Blue Jays renaissance?
I think it is. There's been a steady increase. I would attribute a lot of it to the fact that there are more Canadians playing and being successful in the NBA. These [players] are the same kids that watched the Raptors when they first came out in 1995. Now, 20 years later, they're adults playing in the NBA because they had that presence. Canadians love to support our own, so double that with the fact that the Raptors have been successful and winning. You see what happens when the city gets behind a team, like with the Jays. It's been almost a perfect storm of everything aligning at the right time. It truly is kind of a golden era for basketball in Canada right now. It's a pretty hot thing going on here. The women's national team is doing great, the men's national team is doing great, it's all kind of coming together at once and I think basketball is the hot topic right now.
How important are sports to the Mississauga community?
I'm from Mississauga, so I know how important they are. They contribute to the kind of city Mississauga is. When you see all the programs, activities and rec centers the city has created in order for kids to go and be a part of something to keep them out of trouble and off the streets and occupied with a positive influence and positive activity, I think it's so instrumental. Maybe to the kids, they don't understand it because they're so used to it, but I know that, growing up, it wasn't this prevalent. Right now, I think it's great for them to have it because it's so key to a flourishing community.
Why was Mississauga chosen among all the other 905 cities?
I'm from Mississauga, so I believe it's the only place you'd want to go! Proximity [to Toronto] had a lot to do with it, when you're thinking about getting back and forth from the ACC, it makes it real simple. There are other cities that have arenas, but this one is huge. Let's look at the city's investment. Right now, we're here in the Sport Zone and we've got a practice facility and a hockey facility and a fitness center upstairs and a lot of other arenas don't have those things. So again with the vision that we just talked about, with the city having done all of this to create this environment of "we want to support the community through sports," when the raptors took a look at this it was a no brainer. They didn't know this was all here. There's nothing else that compares to this. We hope to bring hype and marketing to [the city] with Raptors 905 because we're the new buzz. Mississauga is the type of city that's really looking for a sport to attach to.
Have you noticed excitement?
Absolutely, the response has been great. As we're walking around, I'm noticing a lot of people wearing [our] shirts. People are stopping us and asking questions, we're busy every day. I just got off the phone with a teacher who's got six other schools who want to come to a game and we can't respond to them fast enough. That's a good problem. It's great to see the way people are picking up on it because it can be hard getting the word and communication out there, but the city has been supportive and the arena has been great and it's been awesome having the Raptors and MLSE behind us. We're getting support from everybody and I think it's only going to get better. We have the home opener next week and it's going to be a huge smash. It's pretty much sold out at this point, which doesn't always happen in this arena.
What's the date of the opener?
Anything special planned?
It's special in itself, as it's an inaugural game. It's the first home opener and we've got all sorts of wonderful guests. We've got Mayor Crombie and former Mayor Hazel who will be there, MLSE's entire board of directors will be there, the executive leadership team from the Raptors will be there. I think that in itself is going to make it special. We didn't really want to overdo it with anything. We just want to embrace the fact that this is happening here. I think people will be thoroughly impressed and from there, the show will continue to go on game after game.
Are the players predominantly from Mississauga?
They're from all over. It's a testament to the opportunity that the development league and Raptors 905 is giving to young athletes and young men that want to play basketball. The most renowned player is Sim Bhullar, he's from the Brampton area and he's probably got the biggest following as a Canadian, being that he's 7'5. It's going to open the opportunity for the next Mississauga pro basketball player and I think that'll be awesome.
Khaled Iwamura from insauga.com with Sim Bhullar 7’5” centre for the Raptors 905..
Where in Mississauga are you from?
Born at Mississauga General Hospital! It's always been Sauga city for life.
How many games will you be playing?
22 Home Games and two down at the ACC - two school day games so kids can come during the day and witness the game.
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