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Hoop Reel takes aim at Sea to Sky youth league

The local basketball program is experiencing steady growth

Roughly four years after putting down roots in the Sea to Sky corridor, Hoop Reel is booming. 

The local basketball academy offers programs in Whistler and its original Squamish base for various ages, genders and skill levels. Head trainer and CEO Yoni Marmorstein is assisted by fellow coaches Bo Banner, Mike Wheaton, Gavin Reis, Zac Deziel, Fred Witzke, Dimitri Kozang, Elyse Cochrane and Fabrice Muligo. 

Their next collective mission: to establish a regional club league. 

“We're in talks with some other coaches in Pemberton and we're trying to start up our own basketball league,” elaborated Banner, who leads Hoop Reel sessions in Whistler. “We want a club system going through Pemberton, Whistler and Squamish, and we want to keep doing tournaments in Vancouver because what a blessing it is for these kids to actually … get a different taste of life.”

A Sea to Sky club league is a ways away from materializing, but there's work to be done in the meantime.

Marmorstein knows how important opportunity is. Growing up on Salt Spring Island limited his exposure to high-level basketball, and he was cut from four colleges in his mid-20s before finally kick-starting his career as a Capilano University redshirt. Hoop Reel has the potential to grant youth better development pathways than that going forward. 

It also has the potential to build people of character. 

'Basketball is growing'

The Sea to Sky’s chief athletic pursuits—skiing, snowboarding and mountain biking—are rather individualistic. While some team elements like coaching and group training can be present, most contests come down to you against the judges or you against your opponents. 

Basketball, in contrast, is a team sport with a different kind of curriculum to offer. 

“We feel that our kids build much more discipline," Banner opined. "They get more comfortable being leaders on and off the court. You can’t hide in your shell, you have to be vocal and other people are counting on you. I think that builds more accountability for these young athletes.”

Basketball is also very accessible. Parents must invest thousands of dollars to put their children in skiing or mountain biking, but one doesn’t need more than a $20 ball and a $50 pair of running shoes to hoop. 

No helmet, no shoulder pads, no ice time and no exorbitant fees. 

It all adds up to a welcoming, low-barrier way to play, especially for those who may not feel at home on the mountain. Everyone can improve at their own pace and tackle a fun learning curve. 

“You know how Whistler is. You have to find your cultural niche here and there’s not that many options,” said Banner. “The people who feel like they don't fit into the other niches, we're giving another outlook for them to dive into. 

“I would like the community to be more aware that basketball is growing. It can help your kids to grow, not only on an athletic level but on a personal level too. We have excellent coaches that do a great job, including myself. We have excellent parents that go above and beyond for these kids.”

Respect and effort 

What qualifies Banner to co-lead this local hardwood renaissance? 

The Vancouverite played three years of competitive high school basketball and was fairly adept—but not adept enough to make the next level. Basketball requires an elite level of coordination between one’s body and the constantly-moving ball, as well as a watertight grasp of many skills. 

Outsiders may think it’s just a game of dribbling and shooting, but the ability to dribble at speed and make an accurate jump shot requires years of hard work and natural talent. Add to that all kinds of technical elements: how to set timely screens, how to space the floor, how to avoid brain-fart mistakes like standing three seconds in the key, etc. 

Banner actually went pro in a different sport: football. He earned a scholarship to Central Washington University as a defensive end before spending two years rushing quarterbacks for the Montreal Alouettes. His 6-2, 235-lb frame and explosive dexterity helped him record 19 defensive tackles, 12 special teams tackles and two sacks in 35 Canadian Football League (CFL) games. 

Along the way, Banner learned what it takes to be a one-per cent athlete. He has worked with coaches, nutritionists and personal trainers who taught him to develop successful physical and mental habits in the ultra-competitive crucible of American varsity athletics. 

Therefore, Banner generally understands what youths need to hear from a coach.

“I try to make sure that our kids are supported,” he said. “We don’t sugarcoat things at Hoop Reel, but we make sure players understand that we want to push them to be their best. We love giving out push-ups too, if they don’t want to listen. 

“As coaches, we demand respect. If kids are talking to me [in a disrespectful manner], you best believe a college coach ain’t tolerating that. It’s not how the world works.” 

Yet Hoop Reel staff understand that their students are not trying out for university programs—at least, not yet. That’s why they also prioritize facilitating a fun environment where girls and boys can make friends and nurture their love of basketball so it never feels like a chore. 

Banner wishes to thank Hoop Reel's sponsors: LivWell, Hector's Independent, Natural Factors, Toptable Group and Chambers Olson Ltd., for their support. 

Learn more about the Sea to Sky's premier basketball program at