Raptors coaching camp: Using the relentless and unstoppable positivity of Jama Mahlalela

UBC grad Jama Mahlalela is again teaching with the Toronto Raptors after incomes a chip with the Golden State Warriors. He’ll be tasked with serving to increase the group’s offensive numbers — and in addition preserve the gray clouds that loomed over final 12 months at bay.

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It was 1999, and three Black guys with afros coalesced on campus on the College of B.C.: Sherlan John, Zaheed Bakare and Jama Mahlalela.

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Three basketball gamers from completely different, but comparable backgrounds, rising right into a tight-knit trio whose friendship endures to today. A Trinidadian/Grenadan raised on Vancouver Island. A Nigerian, and a mixed-race Swazi-Canadian, who each grew up in Toronto after immigrating to Canada. All basketball gamers, all enjoying for the Thunderbirds.

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John was already a father of two by that time, in his early 20s, and he didn’t know what to make of an 18-year-old Mahlalela when he arrived on the Level Gray campus. He quickly realized why T-Birds coach Bruce Enns had taken a shining to the rookie.

A young Jama Mahlalela
Jama Mahlalela with the Swaziland flag in his room close to the College of B.C. Photograph by Steve Bosch/Vancouver Solar /PN

“Lanky, operating round as quick as you might run, and he may soar. Athletic. Jama may ball,” stated John. “Then you definitely learn how sensible he’s. You’re like, ‘This man may construct rockets.’ He is aware of tips on how to write essays already, and he’s simply 18. ‘You’ll be able to write a subject sentence correctly? At 18? That is loopy.’ He’s superior. I’ve such a respect for that man — that man’s all-world.”

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Mahlalela performed 5 years at UBC, successful the nationwide title in 2003, however his profession averages have been, properly, let’s simply name them symbolic: 10.6 minutes per recreation, 2.4 factors and 1.1 rebounds.

His true impression was his immeasurable management. He was the man operating alongside out-of-breath recruits in tryouts, urging them on. He was the man main pupil strikes for lecturers’ rights in highschool, parading his friends out of the constructing — and extra impressively, again in — all in entrance of a shocked Enns, who had come to Toronto on a recruiting journey.

UBC even got here up with the Jama Mahlalela Award when he graduated, one which “acknowledges excellence within the areas of selfless dedication, management and spirit.” The usual of benefit for the award is so excessive that it’s solely been awarded six occasions since 2004 — together with Mahlalela himself.

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“If we’re all saying, ‘Life sucks,’ he’s all the time the one to let you know, ‘It’s not all dangerous.’ His cup is all the time half-full … if he’s not already on the second cup,” stated John. “He’s legit all the time in a great temper, all the time finds the silver lining, all the time very, very relentlessly optimistic. He’s an important human being.”

In a world the place good guys end final, Mahlalela has the first-place break tape wrapped round him. His profession trajectory is as relentlessly upwards as his positivity. After graduating from UBC with a kinesiology diploma and a plan to be a highschool gymnasium and historical past instructor, he spent 4 years as an assistant coach with the College of Toronto Varsity Blues whereas volunteering with the Toronto Raptors — mixing Gatorade for his or her youth packages.

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That led, ultimately, to a gig because the director of basketball operations for NBA Asia in 2009, earlier than returning to Toronto the place head coach Dwayne Casey named him an assistant in 2013. He spent 5 years in that function earlier than taking on the head-coaching job with Toronto’s G-League affiliate, the Raptors 905, then returning to the NBA bench as an assistant to Nick Nurse.

He left the Raptors to hitch the Golden State Warriors as an assistant to Steve Kerr, successful an NBA title earlier than the siren track of Ontario’s winters lured him residence as soon as once more. Effectively, a siren track within the type of a telephone name from incoming head coach Darko Rajaković. They solely knew one another reputationally, however after three days of telephone calls and textual content messages, found their ethical codes and personalities have been in concord.

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“What intrigued me loads with a return again to Toronto was this mix of Darko as somebody who I actually realized to worth as a coach and as an individual, and similar to me by way of his household comes first, take care of the group is there, and we’re going to determine the Xs and Os as we go,” Mahlalela stated on the Christine Sinclair Group Centre in Burnaby, the place the Raptors have been holding their coaching camp this week.

“That being stated, he’s an important Xs and Os tactician, however (persons are) what comes first. That’s my start line. After which the reference to Bobby (Webster, common supervisor) and Masai (Ujiri, group president) and the management that they’ve, and dealing with them previously, then to have the ability to return residence. I’ve two younger youngsters … and for them to have the ability to be again in Toronto, to be with their grandparents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, all that … the connection of household issues. It’s priceless in so some ways.

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“I feel the one factor I’d have achieved to go away Golden State was Toronto. And Toronto got here calling and I needed to reply the decision.”

Jama Mahlalela at a Raptors clinic
Raptor assistant coach Jama Mahlalela visits with Melissa Vella, 11, throughout the Raptors’ go to to Sick Children Hospital in Toronto on Jan. 13, 2015. Photograph by Dave Abel/Toronto Solar/QMI Company /PNG

Mahlalela’s function has all the time been in participant growth, serving to gamers hone their ability units and fundamentals, simplifying their capturing mechanics, constructing their confidence. He helped the Warriors to the 2022 NBA title, then acquired the Dubs again to their high-octane methods the following season, main the league in threes made and ending second in points-per-game.

In Toronto, his job can be to do virtually precisely the identical factor.

“His repute across the league. He’s an incredible human being. He’s nice with the group,” Rajaković stated of hiring Mahlalela. “He’s additionally a particularly vivid, offensive thoughts. He’s going to be our offensive coordinator and I’m going to depend on him fairly a bit.”

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The Raptors are most undoubtedly not the Warriors. They lack the Tier I offensive skills like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, so selfless, ball-moving, excessive effectivity, much less contested pictures can be their aim this season. Transfer, transfer, transfer the ball. Don’t simply make a great cross, the additional cross, make an important cross. Mahlalela plans to get essentially the most out of Scottie Barnes, OG Anonuby and Pascal Siakam, figuring out their strengths after which incorporating that into their free-flowing offence.

And the opposite factor: stay utterly, totally, relentlessly optimistic.

“Coach (Rajaković) actually has talked about, ‘How can we win the day?’ And I feel that’s the identical mentality I had after I was at 905 as head coach. I speak about successful the second they usually’re each the identical mentality, the identical thoughtfulness round what your day seems like,” he stated. “And I feel when you’ve got these optimistic days and also you begin placing two of them collectively, then three, then 4, then 5. Instantly we’re in scenario the place you’re having fun with coming to work, you’re having fun with the atmosphere of who you’re working with.

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“And the NBA is such a protracted, drawn out, ordeal of a season, in case you take pleasure in it, it’s far more helpful. And solely in that atmosphere are you able to then actually begin to really feel what successful seems like.

“That’s the place we’re coming from, is the positivity leads for an atmosphere that may then entertain the considered successful. However in case you don’t have that, you’re by no means gonna get to that subsequent stage.”

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