It all started with a summer camp. A handful of teachers, all former university or pro basketball players, had some free time in the summer and wanted to open up a program for kids in Barrie. From there, Next Level Hoops continued to grow.
Now, there are programs running all year long, covering every age group and skill level.
“We started with our summer camps eight years ago, and we slowly built up from there,” said Scott Seeley. “There was a need for different programming and more basketball programs for kids, so we added on.”
Two of the most impactful programs put in place are the Jr. NBA program, devised for kids in kindergarten through Grade 2, and the Steve Nash Youth Basketball Program, a house league for children between Grades 3-8.
“The Jr. NBA program was in reaction to the fact that in most other sports, like hockey and soccer, kids get introduced to them when they’re four or five years old,” Seeley said. “Basketball, traditionally, started up in Grade 3, and so what the NBA and Basketball Canada wanted to do was get a program in place so the kids could get a feel and enjoy basketball a little earlier, so that, hopefully, the basketball numbers would increase. Once a kid gets really into soccer or hockey, then it’s hard to get them to come over to basketball.”
Rep programs begin for children in Grade 3, but for those who didn’t make the cut, there was little else in place.
“There was no house league program in Barrie at the time (we started up this program),” Seeley said. “There was rep basketball and that was about it, locally. With the success of our summer camps and parents asking about other programs, we started to offer the Steve Nash Youth Basketball Program, of which we run a fall and spring session that are both eight weeks. That’s more of a developmental program, a house league program, where they work on their skills once a week and get a game once a week, and it’s entirely in Barrie. That’s really grown over the last four or five years we’ve run that. It’s gone from 50-60 kids among all age groups to, this spring, where we got over 200 boys playing basketball in that program alone.”
Seeley thinks having basketball available for everyone in that age group, regardless of their skill level, is extremely important.
“On a rep team, if there’s only one or two teams at an age group, you’re only developing 12-24 kids at one age,” Seeley said. “In a city this size, that’s not (acceptable). We need to do better than that. That’s where we thought the house league was a good idea, so that the kids that don’t make a rep team can still get two nights a week of basketball.
“Kids that were hockey players or maybe weren’t sure if they wanted the rep program can do that,” Seeley added. “It’s much cheaper if you can’t afford rep, either. It’s provided the chance for more kids to play.”
While there are late bloomers in every sport, basketball has the propensity to have a larger percentage of players become better later on thanks in part to growth spurts.
“Kids in Grades 5-7, you don’t know how they’re going to develop physically down the road,” Seeley said. “So keeping a kid that might not be good enough to make a rep team in Grade 5, keeping them involved for when they mature and develop, gives them that shot. You never know how they’ll develop, so you want to keep them going in any capacity that you can.”
He brings up the example of Mikaela Brewer, who played for her Barrie Royals ‘B’ team in Grade 7, but would go on to earn an NCAA Division-I scholarship to Stanford.
At the top end, Next Level has created a travel AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) program for rep players to continue to compete at a high level in the summer months.
“In terms of southern Ontario, it’s fairly new for the majority of clubs and programs,” said Seeley, whose competitive squads only run when local rep teams are in their off-season. “AAU is still a bit of the wild west in terms of its structure. Also, it’s about getting buy-in from parents that this is the expectation if your kid is serious about basketball, that they could really use to play summer basketball. Kids are starting to play three-quarters of the year, so if you’re not doing that, you’re probably getting left behind in terms of the big picture.”
Many of those same players have taken part in a fall league put on by Next Level, an opportunity for them to get into the gym at Georgian College and play full games with referees ahead of their high school and club seasons. Of course, Next Level Hoops still has its summer camps for kids in Grades 3-10, with one week strictly for boys (July 23-27) and the next one (July 30-August 3) being co-ed. While those programs typically sell out, they are doing so at a faster rate this year, with both weeks nearly at capacity already.
Next Level Hoops is also putting on a Canada Day Classic 3-on-3 tournament on July 1 for boys and girls in Grades 5-12, with teams of three or four kids being invited to take part.
Visit nextlevelhoops.ca to register for any of these programs or events.
Photo courtesy of Scott Seeley: Former NCAA and NBA D-League player Nick Wiggins imparts wisdom to a camper at last season’s summer program.