Halifax basketball club faces vandalism as it struggles for acceptance

·6 min read
Halifax basketball club faces vandalism as it struggles for acceptance
Folahan believes the two window smashings are the work of either anti-Black racists or jealous rivals. (CBC/Gbenga Akintokun - image credit)
Folahan believes the two window smashings are the work of either anti-Black racists or jealous rivals. (CBC/Gbenga Akintokun - image credit)

Naofall (Ming) Folahan stared glumly at the logo of his Halifax Prep basketball club that lies among shattered glass in front of his new training facility on a downtown side street.

Someone threw a projectile through the front door of the gym that the former pro player had inaugurated just two weeks earlier.

"This is a five-year dream of trying to open a facility," he said. Folahan choked back tears as he bent his six-foot-11 frame to wipe shards of glass off of his logo, which was the only section of the front-door glass pane to survive the incident.

"Having our own home broken into, it hurts."

Folahan believes the two window smashings are the work of either anti-Black racists or jealous rivals.
Folahan believes the two window smashings are the work of either anti-Black racists or jealous rivals.(CBC/Gbenga Akintokun)

Folahan quickly patched up the damage, but 11 days later, it happened again. Someone threw a fist-sized rock against the same door, this time punching a hole through the bottom pane.

Halifax Police told CBC News they are investigating both incidents, refusing to speculate on a motive. But Folahan said he believes the projectiles were a message.

"It goes to two things, either a racial thing or it can be a colleague who is in the same business as I am, who doesn't want to see this … succeed," he said.

A different hoops model

Halifax Prep stands out among most basketball programs, not just in Nova Scotia, but across Canada. Most amateur basketball clubs are itinerant, renting gyms where they can find them and offering in-house leagues and inter-city teams that play most games close to home.

Folahan's program is different.

He transformed Halifax's Olympia Theatre into a basketball-only facility, where players don't have to share time with ball hockey and indoor soccer. The gym floor is cleanly marked with basketball lines — no labyrinth of volleyball, badminton and handball boundaries.

An upper-level lounge features gaming consoles and a host of services such as personal trainers, a massage therapist and even a barber. The gym is open all day and on weekends.

"They are not going to be restricted to get into the gym if they want to and get some training in," said Folahan, a former minor pro player originally from the West African nation of Benin.

While young children can get started in the game through skills camps at Halifax Prep, it's Folahan's elite travelling team of high school upperclassmen that's drawing the most attention in the basketball community. Halifax Prep is the province's only member of the National Preparatory Association (NPA), a pan-Canadian league that lists 103 former players who have gone on to post-secondary institutions.

For $5,000 a year, Halifax Prep players have full access to the facility, plus a national travel schedule of livestreamed games and exposure on a scouting service.

Halifax Prep offers services that are unusual for a youth basketball club in Canada, such as an in-house massage therapist and even a barber.
Halifax Prep offers services that are unusual for a youth basketball club in Canada, such as an in-house massage therapist and even a barber.(CBC)

Tariq Sbiet, CEO of the NPA, said his league helps to stem a talent drain that often sees Canadian high school teams lose their top players.

"Canadian players would always leave for America because they didn't have the opportunities locally," Sbiet said from his office in Mississauga, Ont.

"With the Halifax players, they're always leaving to America or they're leaving for Ontario because they didn't have it in Nova Scotia until Halifax Prep was born."

For $5,000 a year, Halifax Prep players have full access to a training facility, a national travel schedule of livestreamed games, as well as exposure on a scouting service.
For $5,000 a year, Halifax Prep players have full access to a training facility, a national travel schedule of livestreamed games, as well as exposure on a scouting service. (CBC/Gbenga Akintokun)

Point guard Taevon Downey said the Halifax program offers a solid local option to his generation of players.

"It gives us the same advantage as some other places," said Downey. "To have exposure, being able to stay home and get to also still go away on trips and stuff and get a good experience with other people … it's pretty cool."

Controversial industry

Glory awaits for players and programs if a high school athlete earns a coveted university sports scholarship. Competition for top athletes is fierce, and bad blood can brew if a player jumps from one amateur program to another.

Halifax Prep point guard Taevon Downey says that his program offers local athletes a chance to get national exposure.
Halifax Prep point guard Taevon Downey says that his program offers local athletes a chance to get national exposure.(CBC/Gbenga Akintokun)

Some coaches have even been tempted to profit from the dreams of others.

Folahan, his wife and five Halifax-area basketball players say they were left scrambling in 2017 when a basketball program in Truro, N.S., folded after students say they were promised scholarships. The Truro program's former coach, Stephen LaLonde, had previously been convicted of embezzling funds from a football team in Vermont.

Folahan and his wife founded Halifax Prep soon afterward, but a staff member says the prep industry's reputation hangs over the program.

"It has been really challenging watching (Folahan) struggle," said executive manager Mercedes Boutilier. "People think that we're just one of those programs that are just here to make a quick buck and then disappear."

Nuanced reception

One veteran local basketball coach had a nuanced view when asked about Halifax Prep. Colter Simmonds, who has coached high school and club teams in Halifax for decades, told CBC News that prep programs can offer valuable exposure for elite players — so long as the coaches are on the up-and-up.

"I don't have a problem with it when you put the right things in place for kids to succeed," said Simmonds. "My problem only arises when the intentions are self-serving."

Longtime Halifax basketball coach and activist Colter Simmonds says he supports prep schools, so long as they stress academics and have children's best interest at heart.
Longtime Halifax basketball coach and activist Colter Simmonds says he supports prep schools, so long as they stress academics and have children's best interest at heart.(CBC/Marqeis Williams)

He said all amateur basketball programs, whether school-based or otherwise, are duty-bound to keep an eye on their players' academic transcripts.

When asked directly if Halifax Prep had integrity and good motives, he replied: "To be honest with you, you know, the verdict for me is still out because I've seen some success with individuals. I think it's a good initiative. But right now, I can't say whether it's good or bad on an overall level."

Folahan, when asked if his program has delivered on promises to players, pointed to an alumni list that includes players at Canadian universities and community colleges. One current player, guard Jahnian Simmonds, is committed to play for Concordia University in Montreal in the fall.

He had a message of resilience in the face of the two smashed panes of glass.

"One thing for sure is I will never stop. Never. And nothing can stop me."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of.

<cite>(CBC)</cite>
(CBC)

MORE TOP STORIES