Toronto Raptors' first Canadian draft pick Dalano Banton reflects on Rexdale roots

·5 min read

The Toronto Raptors drafted their first ever Canadian player in franchise history — Dalano Banton.

The six-foot-nine, 204-lb, 21-year-old point guard was selected in the second round draft pick on July 29. He hails from Rexdale and played at the University of Nebraska where he averaged 9.6 points per game while leading the Nebraska Cornhuskers in rebounds (5.9) and assists (3.9) per game.

Speaking to members of the media at a press conference on Sunday, Banton said his Rexdale roots played a significant role in shaping who he is today, and the work ethic he brings to the court. Notably, the local community centres — Rexdale Community Hub and North Kipling Community Centre — helped him stay focused and gave him space to practice his game.

"Everyone from my neighbourhood goes there every single day. That's where I grew up, [and] after school that's where you go," Banton said.

Banton grew up on the north side of Rexdale near Kipling Avenue and Mt. Olive Drive. Those community centres are where he spent much of time outside school. It kept him motivated, he said, and it was a great opportunity.

"Being able to take advantage of those community centres to keep yourself out of trouble, I feel like that was a blessing for me," he said. "I had those community centres to keep me in the gym."

CBC
CBC

As an homage to his roots, Banton chose #45 for his Raptors jersey after the 45 Kipling TTC bus route that crossed through his neighbourhood. He was getting tired of wearing random numbers, he said, and found a number that holds meaning for him.

"Everyone who knows me knows I'm a guy who takes where I'm from with me with pride," he said. 

Banton plans to give back to his community

While he's spent the long weekend with family and close friends celebrating his draft, Banton is already focused on "continuing to grind" for his new team. He also hopes to give back to the community he calls home.

"I'm looking to do a lot of stuff for my neighbourhood to give back. It's gonna be great," he said.

Banton also spoke about growing up in Rexdale. His time in the United States showed him that Canada and Toronto are perceived as "super nice," but the reality on the ground growing up was different.

"There's real neighbourhoods where you gotta come out and put on a tough face," he said. "Just to show you're not weak. That's where I came from, I had to come outside everyday and show that I'm a strong man, make real decisions for yourself early on."

"Growing up in Rexdale gives you that extra grit," he added.

That extra grit, he said, is what helped him go the extra mile. His old coach Kareem Devonish added that Banton never gave up any opportunity to play basketball.

Devonish, the director of player development at the Canadian Basketball Academy, oversaw Banton playing for CBA from 2013 to 2016, and then again at the Central Toronto Academy from grade 9 to 11.

"He was a short kid," Devonish said, chuckling. "He was always eager to play, you could never take him out of the gym, he was always the last to leave. Any opportunity to play, he's there."

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CBC

Former coach calls Banton a mature playmaker

Devonish met Banton when the point guard was 13 years old. Since then, he saw Banton's development into a mature playmaker and someone who always involved his teammates in the game.

After he left Central Toronto Academy, Banton participated in the North Pole Hoops summit, Devonish said. After becoming the tournament MVP, he went over to Boston to be part of a basketball prep program.

"He was unknown at the time, but he got the growth spurt. Combined with his guard skills, that's when he got notoriety," Devonish said.

Devonish added that he was overjoyed when he learned the Raptors drafted Banton.

"It's a dream come true for him, I'm so happy for him and for everything he's been able to accomplish," he said. "He understands he's gonna have to work to get a spot on the roster."

It's a massive moment for Toronto and Rexdale, and a stepping stone, as Devonish calls it, for the youth of the community and the city to dream big.

"He's a good example, and I think it's going to be big for the city of Toronto," he said.

Devonish said the community and the city has a solid "grassroots foundation" for basketball, with a lot of talent and ambition. Indeed, in Banton's old neighbourhood, the Rexdale Basketball Association — which has boys and girls ages 5 to 13 participating — is also celebrating his draft.

Community, city galvanized with Banton's draft

"We'll all be rooting for him," Rexdale Basketball Association coach Devon Abrahams said. "He's got a lot of talent — the sky's the limit."

CBC
CBC

He calls Banton's draft an opportunity to galvanize the city. Abrahams coaches basketball on evenings and weekends with the association, he says the sport continues to grow in popularity in the community, the city and across Canada.

"Rexdale has always been a hotspot for basketball players," he said. "Now they're getting the opportunity to show their talents and taking advantage of it."

"Hopefully this inspires more kids to play basketball and come out to the program."

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