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An exciting year ahead for GSBA basketball folks

There is a healthy amount of basketball jargon that could be used to size up the current transition period of the Greater Sudbury Basketball Association (GSBA).

Credit Miranda Rocca-Circelli with the assist as sixth man Tony Church comes off the bench, bringing along some energetic compatriots in the hopes of maintaining the momentum that has been built up by their GSBA predecessors.

With Rocca-Circelli moving on to pursue other business opportunities and interests, the organization she pretty much single-handedly created and nurtured beginning three years ago is ready for a whole new wave of faces and personalities, starting with the head of the Sports Administration program at Laurentian University.

“Miranda had built quite the following, fans of the houseleague programs that she operated for a while,” noted Church, who is holding down the lead with a group of six interim board members, all very familiar names in the local basketball community, and all more than a little anxious to hold their first AGM come spring of 2024.

“She did a good job of surrounding herself with basketball people that were respected in the community.”

In fact, it was one of the very tenets that Rocca-Circelli emphasized as far back as 2020 that initially attracted Church and the rep team he coached to the GSBA family in the fall of 2022.

“There were opportunities within the GSBA for families that maybe didn’t have the means to afford registration or travel for rep (basketball),” said Church. “There was a real effort there to make basketball accessible and inclusive. I really like that Miranda and the rest of the GSBA were really focused on giving kids an opportunity to play.”

“For a lot of us, that really resonated with us. Basketball should be an easy sport for entry.”

While the man who enjoyed some involvement with the varsity program during his time at York University presents predominantly a background on the more competitive side of the game, Church also knows that basketball needs to grow right across the entire spectrum of talent on a local level.

“I think we all share the belief that a strong houseleague (program) really needs to return to Sudbury,” he said. While the Valley East Minor Basketball League (VEMBL) and Walden Youth Basketball League (WYBL) service some of the outlying communities quite well, the former city proper had fallen upon hard times once the former Sudbury Youth Basketball League (SYBL) folded largely due to a lack of venues.

“The pandemic really showed us that there are no gyms available in the city that aren’t located in schools,” noted Church. “And we do want to offer something pretty centralized for families in the city.”

Thankfully, Rocca-Circelli had forged a strong relationship with the Sudbury Christian Academy, with the former St Raphael School gymnasium bustling with activity even as sports were limited to well-distanced workouts as coaches and administrators worked through the tail-end of 2020 and the year that was 2021.

Church and company have identified another option, one which addresses an important goal for many who are lending a helping hand to move basketball forward locally: namely the need for all those with a vested interest in the sport pulling in the same direction, jumping aboard and pitching in whatever manner they can.

“We have an incredible partnership with Laurentian Voyageurs’ basketball,” he noted. “Jason and Brandon (L.U. head coaches Jason Hurley and Brandon Edwards) have been excellent partners. They have been willing to have us use their facilities, their players have been doing coaching and skill sessions – and we’ve heard nothing but great reviews from our players.”

“Our kids are getting taught by these high level athletes at the varsity gym on Sundays and then get a chance to come out on Fridays and Saturdays and cheer on these role models. It’s a fantastic partnership for us and the Voyageurs.”

And you can throw the Sudbury Five into that mix as well.

With the blessings of coach/GM Logan Stutz and the entire team with SWSE (Sudbury Wolves Sports & Entertainment), the Five hold dearly to the notion of the importance of their involvement at a grassroots level of basketball in Sudbury, reaching out in numerous facets in allowing locals fans to make connections with the players who are looking forward to making the jump to the Basketball Super League this winter.

“Their players have been coming out to referee our games – and all of our tyke kids get a free ticket to a Five game,” said Church. All in all, the wheels are in motion for a solid foundation of recreational basketball availability in the nickel city. “We inherited a houseleague that Miranda had already launched – and there were good numbers there,” added Church.

“Our goal this fall is to run that houseleague successfully, give kids and families a great experience and promote basketball, in general.”

It’s not as though the competitive side of the sport is being neglected, however.

Where the GSBA featured three or four rep teams competing as the Storm at Ontario Basketball sanctioned tournaments the past few years, the 2023-2024 lineup of squads looks set to run at between 12 and 14 teams.

“We have a great group of people who are very interested in the sport and are names that those in the basketball community would recognize,” said Church. In fact, the remainder of the interim GSBA board features the likes of Jamie Lamontagne, Martin Nadeau, Derrick Hartley, Michelle Flood and Syan Thompson, none of whom are strangers to anyone who has spent any time at all around youth basketball in recent years.

Perhaps there is hope for a more collective effort aimed at helping basketball flourish in the years to come.

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