‘Rexdale is him.’ Raptors rookie Dalano Banton inspiring the neighbourhood he grew up in

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Dalano Banton’s family members were messaging each other in their WhatsApp group chats, trying to catch him.

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There were about 10 of them, and they were absolutely happy. Banton was named at NBA Draft Night in July, having been selected in the second round by his hometown Toronto Raptors.

His uncle, Kashane Dennis, was watching a draft party in Toronto, “I called it,” shouted, while the others cheered.

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Banton, with his mentor in Chicago, was so overwhelmed with emotion at the moment, his uncle said that it looked like his nephew was about to cry when he finally reached out to him.

He was coming home to Rexdale, and to play professionally in the town where it all started for him.

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Friends of his Rexdale neighborhood, members of Albion Boys & Girls Club, and former teammates who spent hours at the gym at the Community Hub were also celebrating.

Banton had just made history, becoming the first Canadian to be drafted by his hometown team.

For those calling him and sending a recording of his response, it wasn’t just about making basketball history in Canada—it was also a pivotal moment for Rexdale, a neighborhood northwest of Toronto that’s not often in the positive spotlight. it happens.

It was a child of his own, who grew up on Kipling Avenue and Finch Avenue West, who learned to play the game on the outdoor net at the Rexdale Community Hub and never forgot the people who supported him and fostered his passion for the sport. .

“We’ve never seen anyone make it in the NBA, where I come from,” said Banton, who got so many messages that it took him about two days to get back to everyone.

“Doing it (now) for other people doesn’t seem too far-fetched.”

It wasn’t just Banton’s moment. It was a moment for Rexdale as well.

“Rexdale shaped him by the way he plays basketball, his character, the way he talks. Rexdale is that,” says Michael Okafor, a former teammate.

“If Delano can do it by going to the Rexdale hub, then anyone can.”

since he could Moving practically, Banton grew up in his grandmother’s house on the north side of Rexdale after his father abandoned him over the summer.

Mount Olive Street is where he basks in his Jamaican heritage, falling in love with Grandma’s cooking of jerk chicken and oxtails. It taught her how to move herself in and out of her home, says Banton, and brought stability to her life.

“He was always here,” Dennis says of his family home. “We were just going to open the door for him the whole time.”

The Rexdale neighborhood was Banton’s home, where all of his close friends lived and eventually the area where he attended school. In his grandmother’s basement is where he started playing basketball with his uncle Dennis as a child.

Denis noticed that his nephew not only eagerly plays the game, but also learns it. Banton soon evolved from playing with mini nets in the basement, to spending hours outdoors on the outside court.

Denise remembers the first time she saw her nephew drown when they set a trap for the children. Banton was so determined to knock him down after the jump that he came down awkwardly, scratching his knee.

Banton laughed when Starr asked about that sting, pointing to a scar on his right knee that reminded him of that day. This is when he first began to imagine himself in the NBA.

That’s also when Dennis knew there was something special in Banton. This eventually took him to a basketball tournament outside Rexdale.

Delano Banton (left) with his uncle Kashane Denis and one of his brothers.

Like everyone else From Rexdale, Banton rode 45 Kiplings to get anywhere and everywhere.

From Mount Olive, it takes 42 stops to reach the nearest metro station. Banton said it took him 40 minutes to reach Kipling Station.

“If you want to get out of Rexdale, you have to take a long bus trek to whichever is the nearest subway,” says Yosari Salhia, a patron at Banton who accompanied him to Chicago on draft night.

“That’s why a lot of people in that specific area of ​​town – that’s what they know. They stay there for a long time, they don’t go out to explore and it’s because of the access to the city. I don’t like that long bus ride.”

As Banton went from five-foot-nine at the start of high school, to six-foot-six in pre-school, to six-foot-nine in his final year at the University of Nebraska, the 45 bus served as a reminder to the NBA. How far will he come from Mount Olive to make his dreams come true?

This is why he chose jersey number 45 with the Raptors to honor the long bus ride shared by everyone in Rexdale.

“When you think of the number 45, it’s travel,” Dennis says. “That bus route took you everywhere you needed to go.”

Banton was 16 At the age of 18 when people started paying attention to his basketball skills. It was around this time that Salhia met Banton and coached him while attending the Central Toronto Academy (formerly known as Central Commerce).

“He’s someone I couldn’t be more grateful to. With someone in the neighborhood I grew up in, you need someone to help keep you on track. He was that person,” Banton said Said, when asked about his guru Salhiya.

“He would bring me to the gym, call me, tell me ‘come here, come here’ whatever he can do to stop me from doing something I shouldn’t have done.”

Raptors forward Dalano Banto's mentor, Yosari Salhia, outside the Rexdale Community Hub on September 25, 2021 in Toronto.

As a former collegiate basketball player, Salhia saw Banton’s potential. Banton began playing for the Albion Boys & Girls Clubs team (BGC) at the Rexdale Community Hub, across the street from his grandmother’s house.

Salhia talks with Banton about what remains true today about the need for sacrifice. Working in the neighborhood for years, Salhia knew the obstacles that stood in the way for many young people.

In 2014, Rexdale Was Nominated Neighborhoods prioritized by the City of Toronto. This is an often neglected, under-resourced community that has been disproportionately affected by youth killings compared to the rest of the city.

Hub sheltered Banton and others as they spent days and nights there as teenagers. He volunteered his time with the children’s camp as a summer counselor and eventually worked as a basketball coach during the year.

Banton was coming to the center of basketball but achieving too much.

The team was under the umbrella of Albion Neighborhood Services, where Salhia served as a staff member. He called himself an ANS warrior, embodying Rexdale’s basketball talent.

The center brought together all of Rexdale from north to south, as well as Jamestown Crescent. Back when Banton was working on his craft in the hub, the gym was packed with local talent and 50 to 60 kids on a certain night. These days, it has been taken over by daily vaccine clinics.

when the bantons were In grade 11, Salhia said he knew Banton could dominate the NCAA, but the GTA’s scouts weren’t taking serious notice.

Outside the BGC team, he will play with can-amara basketball, a competitive club led by Salhia that took the best from Rexdale and traveled to tournaments around the country.

Banton, now 21, was one of six players on that team who earned a Division I scholarship to a US college.

Okafor, Banton’s former teammate at Rexdale, credits Albion Neighborhood Services for bringing them together.

“We’ll go to the community center and there’s food, games and a lot of people who are family,” Okafor says. “It gave us the opportunity to discover what we really wanted to do. Basketball and the community center brought us closer together.

Dalano Banton with his uncle Kashane Denis in a recent photo.

They learned valuable leadership skills through the program and ensured they excelled academically, allowing them to earn opportunities to be around in the United States.

“For these kids, especially in places like Rexdale, a lot of it is really being able to make sacrifices and stay on the right track,” Salhia says. “We had a conversation by the time he got to grade 12, where I told him, you can make the NBA. This can be your livelihood.”

Banton soon became a possibility, something almost everyone in Canadian basketball knew as he played at two different prep schools in Massachusetts.

He was chasing his dreams but never forgot about Rexdale. He would constantly call his uncle and tell him how he remembered his grandmother’s cooking of Jamaica and visits to Burger King for a “9 (Night After) Special” that included cheeseburgers and cheeseburgers for only $2. Medium fries included.

Almost every night, Banton and his uncle would go to Burger King near Highway 27 and Finch Avenue West, and get four specials for less than $10.

“After playing a tough game of basketball, we’re like ‘Listen man, after 9! After 9!’ Everyone’s screaming,” Dennis says. “To this day we’ll laugh about it. If I’d called him now, he’d probably be down.”

He grew up on his uncle and made him his own special craft dinner, Mr. Noodles and cornmeal with white rice. He would be homesick, but growing up in the Rexdale neighborhood gave him tough skin.

Toronto Raptors rookie Dalano Banton chose his jersey number, 45, to honor the bus he took while growing up in Rexdale.

Lisa Kostakis, The executive director of Albion Neighborhood Services said that Banton put Rexdale on the map long before he made the move to the NBA. He admired the way he pushed himself whenever he entered the Rexdale Hub and how he represented the boys’ and girls’ club in tournaments.

“When you ask about the community in Rexdale, we don’t forget history. It is going down in history and he will never lose it,” Kostakis says.

“No matter where he goes and how far he goes, this young man has created a legacy. That way our community will always see it. It’s because he’s from Rexdale so he represents us well.”

Banton is a success story Kostakis says he is proud to see for the first time. She says she is considering potentially creating a scholarship on her behalf at the BGC in recognition of her contributions to Rexdale.

Meanwhile for Banton – ready to build his own NBA…

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