This weekend, world class basketball players will descend on Toronto, Ont.for the 2016 NBA All-Star Game. While this will be the 65th edition of the competition, it is the first time that the game will be held outisde of the United States and in Canada.
Included in the weekend, will be two games between four Ontario University Athletics basketball teams. On Saturday, Feb. 13 2016, the five-time defending CIS women's basketball champion Windsor Lancers will take on the OUA East division leading Queen's Gaels, while on Sunday, the No. 1 nationally-ranked Ryerson Rams men's basketball team will tip off against the crosstown rival University of Toronto Varsity Blues.
This weekend provides a unique opportunity for two OUA women's basketball programs to show case their talent on an traditionally male dominated international stage. For two Queen's Gaels women's basketball players, this weekend will not only bring a chance to play in front of an international audience, but also in front of some familiar faces as well.
Robyn Pearson (Toronto, Ont.) and Sarah Saftich (Markham, Ont.) are veteran players on the Gaels women's basketball team. Both players are from the Toronto area, and played on the North Toronto Huskies JUEL Rep basketball in Toronto before committing to Queen's University.
"I can definitely say that this is going to be an unbelievable weekend and quite the surprise in my basketball career," Pearson added. "Any chance to play in front of my hometown is fun. The memories I have playing in Toronto, especially with my teammate Sarah, are unforgettable, and it's exciting for some of those feelings to come back when I play in Toronto. Not to mention it's the chance to show how much my game has developed, and improved, since I left four years ago."
Pearson and Saftich started playing basketball at a young age and they both agree that having a chance to play in the NBA All-Star weekend will be a life changing experience, not only for them, but for other young female athletes in Canada.
"My goal was always to play varsity basketball in the CIS," Saftich said. "I can't wait to represent the strong athleticism that female CIS athletes bring to the table.
"Being on such a large stage is a great step, in my opinion, for females in sport. Hopefully our participation in this weekend will inspire young girls to try out for their school teams like I did," Saftich continued.
Pearson also agreed that this weekend is a positive showcase for female sports in Canada.
"This weekend means a lot, not just to CIS women's basketball, but to all women's sports," Pearson said. "To be involved in a predominately male weekend is an amazing chance to show the world how strong Canadian female athletes are."
For Pearson, this weekend isn't only a huge milestone for female athletes in Canada, but on a personal note, it shows just how far a young female Canadian student-athlete can go in their sport if they believe in themselves.
"I was someone who was never highly recruited to play university basketball, so even just having the opportunity to play the game I love at a high level is incredible enough," Pearson said. "My goal when I first started at Queen's was to make it to Nationals, which we accomplished in my second year. I really want to do that again this year!"
Both women are surprised at the fact that an NBA All-Star game has taken this long to take place north of the border.
"I think it's a testament to how much basketball has developed in the North and how much we have contributed to basketball culture in the past 65 years," Pearson said. "In Canada, especially Toronto, we have the most dedicated fans for not only basketball but all professional sports," Saftich added.
This will undoubtly be an unforgettable weekend for all the OUA teams involved and shows a commitment to young upcoming basketball players, while demonstrating support and promotion of basketball at all levels of the game.