A number of free basketball clinics for youth aged seven to 16 offered a chance to hit the courts, make new friends, and learn from some of the sport’s top talent on Sunday.

The Heron Gate Hoopfest was hosted by Unity Hoops, an organization that provides a safe space for kids to play basketball. 

"I learned a lot of things, like how to do a lay up and we had a lot of fun," participant Halima Raji said.

The clinics involved mentorship from top talent, who once lived in the same neighbourhood and played basketball.

"For me personally, seeing the looks on their faces says it all," said Dion Williams, a former basketball player, who was volunteer coaching on Sunday. "They are having an amazing time and you can really see this is something that the community really needs."

Ali Mahmoud, a retired professional basketball player, said the event was an opportunity to provide mentorship and inspiration.

"It’s nice to help the next generation increase their basketball skills," said Mahmoud. "If you love the game, the sky is the limit."

The day also involved forming connections and making memories after years of disrupted play because of the pandemic. 

"What a great way to engage and have conversation and talk about different approaches to coping with life stresses," said Peggy Taillon, Unity Hoops organizer. "We know that this generation is under a tremendous amount of stress and we know that it’s been compounded with COVID-19."

Six more free basketball clinics are still scheduled with the volunteer coaches.

"Kids have left and come back within the two hours and said, 'I still want to play, I still want to play,'" said Williams.

While not everyone playing Sunday aspires to pursue the sport professionally, the skills learned will help on and off the court.