Toronto women’s basketball league pays players and sells hope

A younger lady sits on wood bleachers as basketballs sail throughout the court docket just a few ft away. She watches intently, together with her mom to her left. A big orange banner hangs on the wall: “Spend money on a Queen. She makes strikes a King can’t.”

Contained in the Kerr Corridor fitness center at Toronto Metropolitan College, previous the meals distributors and selfie station, the thrill on gamers’ faces is obvious. Some are getting the prospect to play near house for the primary time in years.

The ladies in orange and gray HoopQueens jerseys are competing in what’s billed as Toronto’s first paid girls’s basketball league.

“I do know that that is historical past, however I believe that it hasn’t sunk in but,” HoopQueens founder Nakissa Koomalsingh advised the Star. “It’s beginning to, however it’s a lot larger than me.”

For the final two Sunday afternoons, 40 present and former Canadian professionals and college gamers have been hitting the court docket in entrance of paying followers on the downtown fitness center. What the gamers obtain — $200 per sport — doesn’t examine to the WNBA, however it’s a small step for girls who dream of constructing a residing whereas taking part in the sport they love in Toronto.

Emani Clough is one in every of them. She’s from the town and simply completed a season in Portugal.

“That is one thing that can spark curiosity, and it ought to increase the eye and the eyebrows of those who Canada has feminine hoopers,” stated Clough. “We will compete, and we undoubtedly deserve a WNBA group.”

Earlier this month, the Athletic reported that the 12-team WNBA — the place the common wage is greater than $120,000 (U.S.) — is seeking to increase by one or two cities this yr, and Toronto has been talked about. Basketball nice Sue Hen stated she’d heard whispers of Toronto’s curiosity. In November, rap star and Raptors ambassador Drake known as for a WNBA group within the metropolis.

Canadian expertise isn’t exhausting to seek out. The nationwide group has been a fixture within the high 10 of the world rankings, and there was no less than one Canadian on every group on this yr’s NCAA Closing 4.

“I need to have the ability to show that there’s a market right here for the WNBA,” stated Koomalsingh, who was born in Scarborough and raised in Markham. “I need to have the ability to say that, ‘Hey, there’s a fan base right here in Toronto and we deserve a group.’

Taijah Campbell, guarded by Aleena Domingo, drives for the basket in HoopQueens summer league action at Toronto Metropolitan University’s Kerr Hall.

“Folks have been ready on one thing like this, and ready on the group to return, as a result of we deserve it. We’re, like, the new spot, the hotbed of basketball gamers.”

The HoopQueens league is made up of 4 groups of 10. Eight gamers on every group are paid; the opposite two are college athletes and ineligible to just accept cost.

A lot of the cash comes from a $20,000 donation by the William Younger Progress Fund. Younger’s daughter Meghan stated the funding is in honour of her late father, who coached the game within the metropolis and is believed to be the primary to let a lady play on a boys’ group.

“My dad is simply serving to the start of one thing big,” she stated. “It’s solely the kickoff and it’ll develop from there. It’s extra in regards to the league itself and the ladies which might be getting this chance for the primary time.”

The championship trophy is known as after Younger, whereas group names are a shout-out to profitable gamers who bought their begin in and round Toronto: Tamara Tatham, Stephany Skrba, Kalisha Keane and Angie Knoebelreiter.

“These are the ladies I seemed as much as, so I named it after them. Every group is representing their journey,” stated Koomalsingh. “Every thing that we do is intentional, and every part that we have been making an attempt to storytell, it’s at all times going to be about one thing and somebody with a goal.”

Gamers additionally work with The Give and Grow, which holds workshops for younger girls to debate their profession aspirations and focuses on creating distinctive basketball-shaped planter pots. The athletes share their basketball experiences and the obstacles they’ve confronted.

HoopQueens video games are streamed dwell on BallerTV, a scouting alternative for coaches and brokers that gamers hope will result in contract affords abroad.

At halftime throughout the opening weekend, Koomalsingh advised lots of of paying followers within the Kerr Corridor stands that attendance was step one towards the league’s success. Now she’s eyeing long-term sponsorships.

“We’re positioning ourselves in order that we are able to do it larger and higher,” she stated. “It’s about making an expertise that we’ve by no means had earlier than by way of girls’s basketball.

“It’s not like a match or only a common sport. It’s a factor for the group constructed by the group.”

The season continues each Sunday till July 3, with tickets accessible from Eventbrite for $13.13 plus charges.

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