More Than Sport


By Sam Belton

Damian Hughes felt lost in the world after losing his college scholarship because of a 2002 Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury in Grade 12. His dream of furthering his career in basketball ended.

Many college and high school athletes feel the same loss and struggle with identity after their athletic career has ended. According to Humber College Athletic Director Ray Chateau, only a very small number of college athletes go pro. To help athletes find a place in the world, Humber’s Varsity Academic  Centre has two advisors who support athletes with career advice, transitioning from one Humber credential to another, and balancing schoolwork with sports.  

Hughes said he did not know anything other than basketball, and it was his entire life.  Today, Hughes is the owner of and a coach at North York Elite Basketball Academy, a Toronto basketball training facility.

“I hated basketball after that,” he says and did not play for about 20 years. 

While there is no official data from the OCAA, according to Business Insider, 1.2 per cent of NCAA basketball athletes go on to play professionally, and only 0.03 per cent of high schoolers do. Hockey is similar, at 1.3 per cent of college players and 0.1 per cent of high schoolers.

Despite so few going pro, a significant amount of money is spent on scholarships. According to the 2022-23 OCAA Media Guide, college athletes can receive up to $3,000 annually in financial awards. Since the 2011-12 season, OCAA institutions have granted over $11 million in athletic and academic bursaries and awards.

Damian Hughes has now built a business around branching out to other places for success. 

“For athletes that are taking basketball as everything that are in college and stuff like that, they should start looking for other ways in life and looking for other opportunities in other fields,” he says. 

Hughes, a Seneca College business management graduate, has found success in numerous other fields, including as a world-touring musician (by the name of Shizzle Dizzle), choreographing music videos for artists, dancing and dance teaching, and fashion design. He owns a recording and dance studio.  

Hughes’ proudest accomplishments are coaching Canadian natives Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Tristan Thompson and Golden State Warriors point guard Corey Joseph. They were Grade 5 at the time, and he was in his later high school years.

“If you’re only depending on one thing which is basketball, you never know what can happen. And then, when it’s all said and done, and you don’t make it to the NBA, now you’re lost in the world, and you don’t know what to do with your life, right?” he added.  

Despite all the success he had in other fields, Hughes said there was something missing. While he was touring the world, making reggae and rap music, and money, it seemed unfulfilling.  

“I went to church one Sunday and then the pastor said that God is going to use me as an example, and one day I just got up, and I just took up a ball and I started to coach again, and I  started to help out the kids in the community,” he said. 

What I tell my players is, ‘Never take no shortcuts in life. Always work hard for what you want in life. 

Damian Hughes, Coach at North York Elite Basketball Academy

Raymond Morgan, a Ballers Union employee, who played basketball at George Brown College starting in 1998, said basketball taught him about teamwork, leadership, and being in the spotlight to get things done. 

“My biggest thing with basketball is to try to be the best I could, for that team particularly,” he says. 

Morgan was determined to make it to the NBA and received offers to play at schools in the  United States but could not because of financial reasons and his living situation. The transition to a life besides basketball was not initially easy. 

“For the first year or two, it was tough,” he says.  

Morgan had no idea he wanted to coach basketball. But his long-time, college friendship with former Humber and retired professional basketball player Shane Dennie, the owner of Ballers  Union, led him to where he is today.  

“I help Shane. I know Shane from Humber when I left George Brown to go over there. To be honest, if it wasn’t for this facility and all that stuff, who knows what I’d be doing right now?” he says.  

Dennie played professional basketball in Portugal between 2006 and 2008. 

Young athletes, from toddlers to older teens, usually become members of the Ballers Union through word of mouth. Many of them, girls and boys alike, pursue high school or college basketball and can receive training and pointers at any point during their careers.  

“He [Shane] trains people. He goes to people’s houses. If you need something, and money’s right, because time is essential, time is money essentially, he will be there for you. He will make you work and if you have the willingness, that guy’s the best, for me personally,” Morgan says. 

At this facility, this is shown through how students grow and develop even outside of basketball. 

Kenneth Wakabayashi, a 15-year-old athlete training at North York Elite, said basketball is not just a game, but a mindset. 

“It’s allowed me to work hard and build relationships,” Wakabayashi says. “They’re very valuable to me,” he says of his friendships. 

Players at Ballers Union training facility. Photo credits/Sam Belton

Wakabayashi said that making relationships with his teammates is the best thing he has done besides playing basketball. His coach, Hughes, has taught him valuable life lessons about teamwork and collaboration as well as how to play the sport. 

“You’re going to have to work with people for the rest of their [sic] lives, even outside of basketball. So, learning teamwork and how to collaborate with other people, even if you don’t necessarily like them, it’s a very important skill,” he says.

Sekou Tinkers, another 15-year-old athlete at North York Elite, said basketball has been in his family for a long time. His brother introduced it to him when he was nine, and it is incredibly important in his life. Tinkers said no activity could make him as happy as basketball. 

He has also learned valuable lessons from Hughes and the facility. Tinkers has learned to train more, do his schoolwork, and be more active.  

“He [Hughes] taught me how to be disciplined, how to become a better person, and listen more,” Tinkers says. 

Like his peers, Tinkers values the friendships he has made here. 

“I can’t make friends very quickly. I want to get close to more of them and play with them next year, but it’s pretty important,” he says. 

The kids said the friendships they made can last a lifetime. But for most of them, the athletic experience is temporary. They want to play all the way to college and beyond, but Ray Chateau, the Athletic Director at Humber College, said for many players, leaving college athletics can be difficult. 

“I think they [college players] tend to miss the game. They miss having a role in the game,” Chateau says. “They tend to miss the whole varsity  student life experience.” 

He was the program coordinator for Professional Golf Management for 13 years before becoming the Athletic Director in 2013.  

Chateau said many athletes come to Humber planning to stay for two or three years on a  diploma, and then they switch to an additional diploma or degree transfer for up to five years.  

Students learn a variety of life lessons in college athletics including personal dynamics that are grown and developed, as well as time management. Students balance part-time work, their sports commitments, friends, and family.  

“Our slogan is, ‘Develop players, build people,’

Stewart Mackie, Conestoga College men’s soccer coach

Chateau said he hopes Humber can support these athletes in finding the right programs, so they know what they enjoy, and what field they wish to enter. They try to help them while they are at school, so they are not left wondering what to do later. 

“We try to do a lot of that with our Varsity Academic Centre, and our advising. We try to manage that process while they’re here, so they don’t find themselves in that position when they leave,” Chateau says. 

Coaches also point to the importance of making athletes good people for the rest of their lives.

Stuart Mackie, the head coach of men’s soccer at Conestoga College, started a soccer academy with his father that strove to make athletes better people as well as players. He translated that into college athletics. 

Mackie has also been an assistant coach for men’s soccer at the University of Waterloo, a youth development instructor at Toronto FC, and played soccer as a student at the University of  Waterloo. During that time, at a young age, he began coaching with Waterloo Minor Soccer. 

Athletes can also take the personal lessons they learned in college into their careers.

“You obviously want to be successful and competitive, but you want to be good people. You  want to be good members of society and when you’re representing the college, you want to be  honest, hardworking, with good sportsmanship and leadership qualities that will translate into the workplace whenever they graduate and move on into their career path.”

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