Kellen Tynes likely would have been touring U.S. college campuses right about now and mapping out his college basketball future with his family.
Instead, the 18-year-old from Dartmouth, N.S., spent much of Monday on a Zoom call with Quinnipiac University’s coaching staff. Grounded by the COVID-19 pandemic that has brought the global sports world to its knees, Tynes took a virtual tour of the Hamden, Conn., campus.
In all likelihood, he’ll wind up at an NCAA school next year that he’s never actually been to.
“I’ve four (scholarship) offers and more coaches are calling me, I’ve had like 10 college coaches reach out to me in the past week or two saying they need a point guard and they think that I could come in and make an impact right away,” Tynes said. “It’s tough because I’m not able to visit . . . but coaches are doing a good job considering everything that’s happening.”
It’s a scene that will be playing out across North America in the coming weeks as schools look to fill rosters, and players search for scholarships amid seasons cut short.
Tynes is considered one of the lucky ones. The six-foot guard had led Rothesay Netherwood to a 12-0 record in the National Preparatory Association season, capped with a 12-point victory earlier this month over Toronto Basketball Academy. Tynes had 23 points, five steals, six assists and six rebounds and shot 5-for-9 from three-point range in what would be his last game of his high school career.
“Kellen could not have played any better all season and he was on an upward trajectory the entire year . . . helping RNS do something I would argue no other team in Canada has done,” coach Damian Gay said.
Rothesay Netherwood — a school of 300 kids from Grade 6 to 9 in the town of Rothesay, just east of Saint John, N.B. — went from winless in the NPA’s inaugural season four years ago to undefeated.
“And very few teams have gone undefeated with an accumulated (grade point) average of 85 per cent, we have 10 players, we beat every team in the country at least once,” Gay said. “We were a historic team having a historic year, and we capped it off beating the No. 2 team in a packed gym, in front of all the naysayers that said ‘You’re from the east coast of Canada, can’t do anything against big bad Toronto,’ but we did.”
The coronavirus prevented Rothesay from completing its perfect season with a national title. The national championships, scheduled for this past weekend in Toronto, were of course cancelled.
Going out on a high note
Tynes can’t help but feel robbed of an opportunity.
“Nationals is what I was looking forward to all season,” he said “Being a senior, if we were to win this would have been the year, I think we proved that all season, and just going to the nationals, I was just really excited,” he said.
“But it’s taught me to take advantage of opportunities while they’re there, and — not that I didn’t before — but it’s taught me to never take being able to play basketball for granted, not being able to go to school and see your friends.”
Tynes was named both the league MVP and top defensive player in awards announced on Twitter, and Gay said it was a blessing his star guard went out on a high note.
“He has no more (high school) games, nobody can outplay this kid anymore for the rest of the year,” Gay said. “I’m just so happy for him that his last game was certainly his best and no one can take perfection away from him.”
Sbiet brothers doing their part to help
The 12-team NPA is a division of North Pole Hoops, which was founded in a 2011 by brothers Tariq and Elias Sbiet as a platform to find opportunities for young Canadian players. The two initially worked out of their parents home in Mississauga, Ont., using one of their bedrooms as an office and sharing the other bedroom to sleep in.
Tariq, who is 30 and the company’s CEO, and Elias, who’ll be 32 in October and is the director of basketball recruitment, even shared a car until less than two years ago, pouring all of their resources back into the business. North Pole Hoops also includes a player scouting and representation division, and a 48-team youth club league — 12 teams in each of Grades 9 through 12 — which was scheduled to begin this spring but has been shelved by COVID-19.
Amid the upheaval, Tariq Sbiet has turned his attention to helping players secure scholarships.
“I’ve been on the phones from like 9 or 10 a.m. to about 11 p.m. every day, and I’m not even complaining because we’re all feeding off of the energy of the families and the kids and the coaches who are so appreciative,” he said. “I’ve literally spoken to 10 (NCAA Div. 1) coaches in the last 48 hours regarding Kellen and others.”
Sbiet said he’s confident that over the next three to four weeks, they’ll be able to secure college spots both in Canada and abroad for 150 graduating Canadian players.
Don’t hit the snooze button
In the meantime, players in limbo try to stay active. Tynes works on his ball skills in his basement with his brothers Chase (20) and Deion (11). He runs and lifts weights.
Gay, who is a math teacher at Rothesay, remains in constant contact with his team.
“My big message to them was about opportunity, this is a huge opportunity to surpass so many people that are going to hit the snooze button,” he said — and wasn’t surprised that Tynes made himself available for a morning telephone interview Tuesday.
“A lot of people aren’t going to have the motivation or determination to get out of bed. Sleeping until 11:30, 12 o’clock as teenagers is common. So making sure that they have their alarm set for getting up early. The biggest thing is finding ways to motivate (them virtually). We have a group chat, and I always put stuff on there, if I’m doing a workout myself early in the morning I can say, ‘Well, I can do it. You can do it, don’t allow me to out work you,’ kind of thing. The boys have certainly bought into that concept.”
The season’s ending wasn’t ideal, but the goals, he said haven’t changed.
“No one’s feeling sorry for themselves that we didn’t win a national championship. Because it was never about that. It was always just about getting better,” Gay said.
Sbiet, whose company has eight core employees and 30 to 40 across the country employed on a contract basis, agreed that adapting amid a health crisis that’s changing at a whiplash pace is key.
“The only question during a time like this is how do you respond?” he said.
To keep NPA players engaged, the league announced its national awards via Twitter last week. It’s also playing out the national championships in a video game simulation like NBA2K — complete with a digitally replicated Humber College floor — that began Monday night. North Pole Hoops is showing the simulated games live on their YouTube channel.
“I basically transitioned my energy into a different area . . . our service side, now’s the time to serve others more than ever, right? How can we help? How can we bring value to others?” Sbiet said.
“At a time like this you want to bring people together because there’s so much negative news and so much fear in the environment, and of course, I get it, it’s a very serious issue. But we also have to be smart. We have to prepare. Because guess what? Eventually we’re going to get back in action and the people that stayed ready, not got ready, but stayed ready are the people that are going to succeed at the highest level.”