Practicing with basketball elite

Local basketball players got the chance to practice their skills at Prairie Elite Basketball Academy on Nov. 24 and 25. (LAUREN MACGILL, Winkler Times)

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What better way is there to practice your basketball skills than by getting tips and training from former university coaches and a member of Team Canada?

Young basketball players from all over the region got the chance to do exactly that on Nov. 24 and 25, as Prairie Elite Basketball Academy returned to the area.

Victoria Zuke and JP Beauchemin founded Prairie Elite at the end of last year with the goal to provide more basketball opportunities for female athletes.

Prairie Elite started in Winnipeg before branching out to visit more rural areas. This is the second time the basketball camp has come to the Winkler area and they recently went to Thompson for the first time.

Over the weekend, Zuke said they saw about 42 kids come out from all around the region, including from Morden, Carman, Treherne, Altona and Niverville. Their camps ran Saturday at Prairie Dale Elementary in Schanzenfeld and Sunday at Parkland Elementary in Winkler.

“It’s really great to see all the athletes,” she said. “One of the things that’s important to me is yes, you may play at a different school, but we want to improve basketball for all the kids in the area, not just one school. It’s nice to see them all involved together and working together.”

Team Canada forward/centre and former University of Utah player Emily Potter also came to the camps to provide her own input and advice to participants. “The game of basketball is growing in Canada,” she said. “More and more kids are wanting to get involved early, so I think it’s important that we as coaches get out and give kids, it doesn’t matter what city or town you’re from, the opportunity to learn the skills.”

Potter got into basketball because everyone in her family played growing up. “Both of my sisters in high school, I have a sister that played for the University of Manitoba,” she said. “My parents played, my dad coached when I was growing up, so I was always in the gym.”

From there she worked her way up from playing high school basketball to playing professionally. She recently graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelors in marketing, and played with the university starting in 2013.

Potter has played for Team Canada at various age groups, and recently played professionally in Poland. She injured her knee while there, and has returned home to nurse herself back to health.

She said it has been good to see the response the camp received. “This is my first time working at camp, so I’m super excited to give back any way I can,” she said. “I think they’re doing a really good job going to a bunch of different places and teaching the game to a lot of girls that really love the game.”

Potter said she hopes to see players from the camp take the skills they learned and keep improving on them. “Anyone can play basketball for their high school team, but it’s the work you put in outside by yourself that’s going to separate you as a player.”

While Prairie Elite focuses on female athletes, they also hold camps for male athletes, especially in rural areas. “I feel like they don’t have as many camp opportunities,” she said. “This area has a lot of talent, and they have hard workers out here. That’s important, they should be noticed as well and be provided opportunities.”

Zuke said she and Beauchemin try to incorporate as many skills as they can during their sessions. “We work on skill development but we also work on basketball decision making, that’s a big part of the game,” she said. “We have a really good dynamic warm-up and then we’ll get some ball handling in there. We try to make it as competitive as possible, not just one-on-one drills.”

Rebounding, pivoting, shooting and passing are all skills Prairie Elite focus on. By the end, participants get to play games and compete against one another.

Zuke also includes a ‘mental toughness’ aspect as part of the camps. “We talk a lot about confidence, where it comes from, how to get opportunities in the game,” she said. “I’ll get [parents] saying, ‘You changed the way my daughter sees the game.’ That’s the biggest thing to me, it’s so rewarding to hear that.”

Zuke hopes the camp will help kids see basketball differently. “I hope they always remember why they started playing and see fun aspects,” she said. “Even if they take one thing… A lot of the time, in female sports especially, you don’t have as many opportunities or as much confidence.”

“Everyone says they want to get better at shooting or get better at one-on -one,” she added. “Well, how do you do that? What goes into that? We were able to bring [Potter] out to show that this is where you’re able to go. This sport can lead you to a lot of scholarships and a lot of future opportunities, but I also want them to see that being part of a team and achieving success through sport is really rewarding.”

Prairie Elite Basketball Academy instructor JP Beauchemin, Team Canada player Emily Potter and Prairie Elite instructor Victoria Zuke were in Winkler on Nov. 24 and 25 to lead a basketball camp for local kids. (LAUREN MACGILL, Winkler Times)

Local basketball players got the chance to practice their skills at Prairie Elite Basketball Academy on Nov. 24 and 25. (LAUREN MACGILL, Winkler Times)