On May 9, Red Bull Media House and the National Film Board of Canada will release True North, a nine-part documentary series that takes a in-depth look at basketball in Canada and the growth of the sport in Toronto.
Players interviewed for the series include Steve Nash, Cory Joseph, DeMar DeRozan, Jamal Murray and Damon Stoudamire, the first draft pick by the Toronto Raptors when the team entered the league as an expansion franchise in 1995. Stoudamire won Rookie of the Year and helped introduce the sport of basketball to an entirely new fanbase in Toronto.
Today, Stoudamire is the head coach of the men’s basketball team at the University of the Pacific after stints at several other universities, including his alma mater, Arizona. We caught up with him recently to talk about the growth of basketball in Toronto, falling in love with coaching, his experiences with Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr, and more.
Dime: What do you remember about the excitement level for basketball in Toronto when you joined the Raptors?
Damon Stoudamire: I think half of the people knew about basketball, and the other half was trying to figure it out. The enthusiasm for the Raptors and especially in that inaugural season, you couldn’t ask for more. I felt a lot of energy as I went around the city. There was a lot of buzz. It was brand new. People were trying to figure it all out.
And while you were in Toronto, would you hear a lot about local players who were coming up through the school systems?
I did. I had a friend who worked for me in Toronto, and in his spare time, he would play basketball at a lot of the local gyms. The first guy I ever heard about was Jamaal Magloire, he was the first high schooler I heard of who was going from Canada to play college basketball in the United States.
Back then, it seemed like every single player going from Canada to the United States was a big deal. Now it feels like it’s happening all the time.
You can find players in Canada in all shapes and sizes and flavors. If you are looking for players, you can go up there and find them, it’s not few and far in between anymore. The basketball has gotten so good that players fall through the cracks, and you can find the diamond in the rough. At the youth level, there are certain aspects of the game that we, here in the United States, can take from Canada. Whenever I watch Canadian teams play at events around the country, they always play together. I think they’ve caught up in the area of the fundamentals of the game. That’s how they’ve bridged the gap.