Balling on the Small Screen

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Documentary Series Shines Spotlight on the North

“All of the other stuff doesn’t matter. Your ‘why’ has to be the most important thing.”

These words were said by Vidal Massiah, head coach of Toronto’s King Nation AAU squad.

Massiah features heavily in True North, the recent National Film Board documentary series directed by Canadian Ryan Sidhoo. True North, composed of 9 episodes, spotlights Toronto’s local basketball scene. Through profiles of a number of players and coaches, it paints a picture of the trials and tribulations that many of these people go through, both on and off the court.

True North features interviews with notable basketball figures such as Steve Nash, DeMar DeRozan and Damon Stoudamire. However, the focus of the series is really on the lesser-known local talent. The viewer soon becomes familiar with players such as Elijah Fisher, Jalen Celestine and Cordell Veira, and the obstacles they each face.

Reminiscent of basketball classics such as Hoop Dreams and He Got Game, True North provides an intimate look at the ways in which these young prospects navigate their challenges, whether this means managing high expectations, trying to earn a D1 scholarship, or simply winning the next game.

Where True North succeeds is in its raw honesty. Like real life, it contains far more than glory and success. Moments such as the retraction of Celestine’s admission to a prestigious American high school program hit home with the viewer. The mean streets of Toronto’s less-desirable areas loom in the background, with Veira dedicating an 86-point game to a slain friend.

“I hope it paints a very holistic picture of youth basketball, which has its ups-and-downs,” Sidhoo explains. “Fortunately, the families who I connected with on this project, they’re the ones who had the courage to share their stories and open up on-screen. It’s not necessarily easy to share those stories and setbacks.”

True North’s subjects come from a wide variety of age groups and situations. Barely a teenager, Fisher is one of the top players in his class, and seems destined to follow in the footsteps of local products such as Andrew Wiggins. Coaches such as Massiah, on the other hand, are seasoned veterans of the Toronto basketball scene, following playing careers that took them to American colleges.

What then, serves to unite these people? This brings us back to Massiah’s “why.” Why do they play the game?

Let Celestine shed some light. Despite a hardscrabble upbringing, he claims that what drives him is his love for the game, rather than a desperate desire to improve his situation.

“This has been one of my goals since I was a little kid. I just always loved the sport. I always worked my hardest to be the best. It’s not like I need to get my family out of the neighbourhood or anything. It’s just me doing what I want to do. In my opinion, it doesn’t even matter where you’re coming from in basketball.”

“If you can hoop, you can hoop”

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