The Raptors first-ever free basketball clinic targeted specifically to Iranian youth spurred on a lot of excitement for those in attendance, earlier this month.
While overall attendance fell a tad shorter – 18 children participated out of a cap of about 35 – parents and children alike were awash in basketball fever at the Air Canada Centre’s (home of the Raptors) practice court.
“This is wonderful, it encourages the kids to play sports, and to work harder,” says Dr. Abbas Azadian, who’s 12 year-old son Ruzbeh was an attendee. “Absolutely it’s a great idea, to get kids more active in sports and social activities.”
Azadian found out about the clinic through Salam Toronto, and was a soccer player growing up in Iran. His son plays on the school team.
“Sports are big in our community, soccer, basketball, its politics back home,” says Azadian’s wife Zahra, who was a volleyball player and swimmer growing up. “It’s always in important for our kids. When I told our son about today, he couldn’t believe it, he was like ‘what, really?!’”
For 11 year-old Rizvan Nirvala, he came to this clinic to improve his dribbling skills.
“I love basketball,” he tells Salam Toronto. I play point guard, but I can play other positions too. My favourite player of all-time is Michael Jordan, but right now it’s LeBron James and Derrick Rose.”
During the one-hour camp held at the Raptors practice facility on a chilly Saturday afternoon, head Development Coach Kerwin Liverpool and three other coaches ran the kids through warm-up drills, dribbling exercises, and various ball tricks that they all gamely enjoyed.
“I think it’s very encouraging to have camps like these,” says parent Amir Adhoulin, who surprised his nine year-old son by bringing him to the clinic. “It’s his favourite sport, even though I myself did not play much growing up.”
Among the organizers of the Iranian-Raptors collaboration is Karan Makvandi, who’s 6-year old daughter was among the youngest in the clinic.
“We smuggled her in here,” Makvandi jokes.
Makvandi also has basketball in his blood, representing Iran in the Under-19 team during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and much of that passion has been transferred to his young daughter.
“She walks around with the ball, sleeps with it all the time,” he says. “My daughter watches more basketball than any other six-year old. As an infant she would watch basketball with me. She would sleep only through half-time, then wake up and watch.”
The basketball enthusiast also looks at the big picture, and how many Iranians like his family are fortunate, and the kids should recognize this as well.
“The one thing I honestly struggle with is, how to convey to these guys is how lucky they are, and not to take all of this for grante,” Makvandi says.
“To have the privilege of showing up at this facility, and not to take this for granted. When I first came here, I was like holy smokes, Canada basketball, Raptors, all other kinds of great players come on here.”
“I want to improve my shooting,” says 14 year-old Amirali Takmahd, who for one does not seem to take this opportunity for granted “I play for my school team, and use the skills I can develop here and take them to the team.”
In addition to fundamental basketball skills, the coach’s also honed in lessons that can be applied to the game of life.
“You practice each day, and that helps you get better,” coach Liverpool told to the kids at the beginning of the clinic. “In basketball and in life, education is important. You need to be motivated!”
Karan Makvandi sees a growth in the game within the Iranian community, and has witnessed tangible diffe-rences in each year between the Raptors and the community.
He says,“The program has grown, and the community has become more aware of it. Of course, the Farsi-language media has helped a lot. First year we had only English coverage, however we had a Farsi-language article on NBA.com about basketball, which kind of ignites the whole thing.”
Overall, Makvandi sees the results of this partnership between the Raptors and the Iranian community as a positive, and can see it only getting bigger.
“Parents I see are even more excited than the kids,”he says. “Next year, parents are going to fight to get their kids here.”