As news of Dalano Banton‘s history-making pick by the Toronto Raptors continues to circulate in his home neighbourhood of Rexdale and throughout the Greater Toronto Area, those who have coached and admired the skills of the 21-year-old guard say he’s helping to break new ground for other youth who hope to follow in his steps.
“For him to be a Raptor like after having gone to the ACC with us or even going to games … even playing 2K and stuff with us in tournaments, right when we’re playing video games together picking the Raptors and playing with them, and now he’s going to be in the game. That’s really intense,” Kareem Devonish, the director of player development for the Canadian Basketball Academy (CBA), told Global News on Monday, occasionally stopping to laugh while recounting Banton’s early days.
“Kids from his neighbourhood and kids from other priority neighbourhoods as well are thinking to themselves it’s a possibility. They’re like, ‘Coach, how did he do it? How did he get there?’
“You don’t have a direct roadmap from a high school in Toronto to get to the United States. With his example, they’re starting to see a roadmap.”
Devonish was Banton’s coach throughout most of his teen years and said if it wasn’t for Banton’s sense of sportsmanship, he might not have made the team. He recalled how Banton, then 13 years old, came to a CBA practice where the roster was essentially settled.
But after Banton went through a practice and did so without even a formal tryout, he quickly turned to his young, newly assembled squad.
“I put it to the kids on the team and I said how do you guys feel about Dalano? I mean he’s going to take your minutes so you’re going to have to make the decision,” Devonish said.
“Every man on the team said, ‘We want him on the team. He has the character, he has the skill, we want him on the team.’
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“He’s a person that wants to help. Even with his game and the way he plays the game, he’s always trying to get other people involved. He’s an assist guy, like he gets more joy getting an assist than out of a score, and it transfers to everything.”
During his first news conference since joining the Raptors, Banton’s pride for Mount Olive, the neighbourhood where he grew up, as well as the Rexdale community shined through his jubilation and excitement amid questions about becoming the first Canadian to be drafted by the team and what it meant to him.
“Growing up in Rexdale, just the kids being able to see me. I go to the gyms that they went to all these years and I know a lot of people. Everybody knows it’s like a tight-knit family growing up where I’m from,” he told reporters on Sunday, noting he used to frequent the Rexdale Community Hub and North Kipling Community Centre.
“It’s not about where you are, it’s where you plan to be … plan to live bigger.
“Coming where I come from, it gives a lot of people hope. I feel like a lot of people think they can make it now.”
During his sophomore season with the Nebraska Cornhuskers during the last season, he averaged 9.6 points, 3.9 assists and 5.9 rebounds over 27 games. He was previously at Western Kentucky.
However, during his time with the Huskers, Banton said he wanted to find a way to pay homage to his Rexdale roots. A former rider of the TTC’s 45 Kipling bus, which went right past his neighbourhood, he picked 45 for his jersey.
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“When I was trying to think of a number that means something to me, I was kind of getting tired of just wearing numbers. I feel like you can always make meaning of something, so I felt like once that clicked to me it stuck,” he recalled.
“Everyone who knows me knows I’m a guy who takes where I’m from with me, with pride.”
Devonish concurred with that last statement in particular.
“Dalano is always about Rexdale. Everything we do as a team, he’s always talking about, ‘Rexdale is this, Rexdale is this,’” he said, joking the team might have to “fight” to keep him from going back up to the area on a frequent basis.
“He would always be the one saying, ‘Rexdale is the greatest, it doesn’t matter what it is.’
“He considers everybody family. When he’s talking about family in the interviews, he’s talking about the whole of Rexdale.”
Eventually Banton went on to play with Central Toronto Academy. Devonish noted that Banton, who for most of his early years as a teenager was around six-foot-one. But when Banton turned around 17 or 18, he had a growth spurt and now Banton stands at six-foot-nine and weighs around 204 pounds.
Marlo Davis, the assistant coach for Canada’s junior women’s national basketball Program and the head coach of Crestwood Prep’s basketball programs, said Banton’s stature, as well as his ability, means his versatility as a player is “through the roof.”
Toronto’s Dalano Banton becomes 1st Canadian to be drafted by Raptors
“His ability to do multiple things and play multiple positions at a high level is something that’s going to separate him from a lot of rookies,” he told Global News, believing through the development process Banton will get plenty of opportunities on the court.
Davis said although he didn’t coach Banton, he saw Banton play a few times and has friends who have coached him.
“I’ve always been a fan. I’m so excited for him and what this means for the city of Toronto and Canada as a whole,” he said.
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Aside from Banton’s basketball abilities, Davis reflected on how Banton’s personal story is special — as is his love for Rexdale and his connection to it.
“That allows him to really bring life into the city of Toronto,” he said.
“For him, he’s kind of the flagship right now of kids in the inner-city of Toronto knowing that ‘if I just commit myself to the work and believe in the work I’m putting in, anything is possible.’
“Dalano is really a Toronto guy, a Toronto kid where it’s tangible like he’s a guy that’s around. He’s going to be in the neighbourhoods and kids are going to see him, and kids are going to feel him, and they’re going to be able to really know like I saw that guy play and it wasn’t a guy they saw on YouTube.”
Meanwhile, Banton’s former coach said he’s beyond excited to see what comes next for the newest Raptors rookie and how he will develop.
“Given the chance, he’s going to succeed. All he needs really is to be in the gym and now the Raptors are going to give him all the gym time he needs,” Devonish said, speculating that the coaching staff in conjunction with Banton’s hard work will result in exponential growth for him.
“You’ve got to be happy for someone like that who is now attaining his goal, doing it the right way, trying to help as many people as he could on the way, being kind and nice to people the whole time — that’s character stuff, right? I think the Raptors saw that in him when they drafted him.”
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