Growing up in Montreal, Élie Karojo never had a local basketball team to cheer for — never mind the chance to improve his skills alongside any professional athletes.
Now that he is one, he wants to make sure kids in his hometown have those opportunities.
"I'm going to help them play pro, get to the next level and get better at basketball," said the Montreal Alliance forward.
The team, which played its first season this year in the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL), held a mini basketball tournament in Montreal on Saturday for more than a dozen kids in the city.
Players ran drills and coached games, all while making a stronger connection with their young fans.
One of those young fans is Gensley Succes. The 14-year-old said getting to train with professional players from his city meant a lot to him.
"[They're] a great team and playing with them is like I'm a professional basketball player," Succes said. "Not everybody can do that."
While Succes's dream is to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA), he said he knows he needs to train harder because it's not an easy task.
That's why Elijah Ifejeh, another forward with the Alliance, says it is important to support aspiring professional players from an early age — especially those from Montreal, which is steadily growing its reputation as a basketball city.
"I'm from here, so people didn't expect me to be where I'm at right now," said Ifejeh. "So having [this] experience and showing them to have hope is good for them."
On the court, the inaugural season for the Alliance was a tough one, finishing in last place. Despite that, the team had the best attendance in the league, averaging nearly 3,000 fans per game at the Verdun Auditorium.
And for Ifejeh, being able to play in a hometown jersey is priceless.
"That's the best feeling," he said. "Especially playing at home, [with] family, coaches, just everybody that you know that's seen you make it."
Both Karojo and Ifejeh say fans can expect more wins next season. In the meantime, the Alliance plans to do more of these mini tournaments for youth all around the city.
For 14-year-old Vincent Bainville, playing with the local team professionally is his ultimate goal.
"I would like to play with them later … because I really like this sport and I think doing your favourite sport for work is super cool because you're getting paid for something that you like," he said.
"It would be like a dream."