'It's my dream:' The pandemic is dimming the dreams of an Okanagan high school basketball star | Kelowna News | iNFOnews

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'It's my dream:' The pandemic is dimming the dreams of an Okanagan high school basketball star

Cole Wyllie (#18) goes for a three-pointer.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Tara Miller
September 21, 2020 - 6:00 AM

West Kelowna teen Cole Wyllie has played basketball nearly every day for the last five years.

Wyllie, 16, says basketball means "everything" to him and the Grade 11 student sees it as a big part of his future. In fact, he anticipated that a university scholarship would allow him to fulfill that dream.

But with sports largely cancelled due to the pandemic, Wyllie's dreams of a scholarship have been thrown into the air.

"I've been thinking about (a scholarship) since I started playing," Wyllie told iNFOnews.ca. "It's my dream, it's what I've always wanted to do."

While the pandemic hasn't directly cancelled university scholarships, with plenty of sports being suspended for the season, key moments in young athletes' careers have been thrown into disarray.

Ordinarily, Wyllie would be playing for Mount Boucherie Senior Secondary School and a local league team, and all being well, impressing the various university scouts that come to games with an eye to recruit players. On top of that, he'd have statistics to back up his gameplay and video footage of him playing leagues matches to pitch to universities in Canada and the U.S.

The pandemic has put a hold on all that.

The guidelines around which sports are permitted depend on the sport and where it's played with each sport creating their own sport-specific plan.

The Ministry of Education’s Restart Education plan is allowing for sports activities in schools but limits students to only play against other students in the same school. Independent leagues may interpret the guidelines differently, but currently, Wyllie's local FYBA league is practising, but not playing competitive games against other teams.

And it's that lack of competitive play that Wyllie's most concerned about missing.

"It's very worrying because one of the bigs parts of playing basketball is going outside of the Okanagan," he said.

Travelling to play games in the Lower Mainland or Alberta against tougher competition is where players get to develop and showcase their skills.

"It really raises your skill level," Wyllie says.

It's something Wyllie's mother, Tara Miller, is well aware of.

"Competitive play is where they get better throughout the season and having that exposure is the thing that clinches whether they a scholarship post-secondary or not," Miller said. "Our concern is there's no competitive play, there's no play outside of this region, and in other places there are opportunities being offered but not here, so already he's at a disadvantage."

Wyllie did get accepted to do Grade 11 at an elite private school in Calgary, where he would get to play basketball and possibly travel to the U.S. But the $25,000 a year price tag meant it was out of the question.

Miller knows plenty of other high school athletes will be in a similar position as her son.

"I'm a single parent, my kid needs a scholarship, otherwise he'll be in student loans forever and he will definitely not be playing in the States with what their tuition is," she said. "For him... to have full competitive seasons where he would normally be travelling throughout Western Canada to play and gather stats and footage, this could be his only window to get those opportunities."

Wyllie was invited to an elite camp at a university in Florida which he did virtually. He said they gave him pointers on where to improve his game and invited him back next year. To turn it into a scholarship, he knows he has work to do to impress them when they see him next year.

As the governing body for university sports in Canada, U Sports is seeing the pandemic change the normal model.

"Everything that is going on right now for any students that are in high school is much different than what has occurred in the past," U Sports director of communications John Bower told iNFOnews.ca.

Bower said coaches are no longer out seeing the Grade 12 and Grade 11 pupils play, but are also paying less attention to statistics than they once did.

Bower said while the high school superstar may be already known, it's the players one step down who could be affected the most by the lack of scouts.

"Everyone knows who that number one guy is but sometimes when you go out to a game you see that number two kid and you go, 'wow, that's the kid I really want, who I need,'" he said.

As the model has now changed, Bower has advice for high school sports players hungry for scholarships.

"The new normal is students may need to be more proactive than they have been in the past," he said. "If people are interested in a particular university, don't wait to be recruited... go out and try to get recruited, because right now, things are a lot different than they were in the past."

It's something Wyllie is already doing.

While Bower can't speak to the situation at U.S. universities, as college sports are a huge revenue generator – and currently largely cancelled – the financial implications of this may well impact a school's willingness, or ability, to hand over generous scholarships.

With the pandemic constantly moving the goalposts it is hard to know what will happen in the near future.

Wyllie's local league hasn't decided yet whether a competitive season will happen in the spring but Miller says she may look at moving south of the border if the situation continues and it means her son can play competitive basketball.

For his age, the 16-year-old West Kelowna player seems remarkably grounded considering the situation.

"I'm trying to be optimistic," he said. "I'm just going to keep on working hard."

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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