Hoop Dreams: The Never Ending Fight


Almost everyone who has played sports has been cut from a team.  The lasting sting of rejection is not soon forgotten.  Michael Jordan is the prime example, and one of the most glorified examples, that perseverance and determination are what brings greatness.

Being cut from the varsity team was something we could all assume was the motivation for MJ as well as a great source of his character; his competitiveness is storied and he gave a very clear vision of the things that motivated him throughout his career in his hall of fame speech.

Michael Steele during his time at Capilano

Michael Steele during his time at Capilano

Even his home town had doubts on where he would go with sports, he said in an interview that most people thought he would go to “North Carolina and sit on the bench for four years and then come home to pump gas” stated by the great one in a past interview.  This was all motivation for Michael and propelled him into the greatest basketball player to ever live.

I say this in order to introduce an inspiring story, one for all the players who dream of taking their talents to the next level.

Michael Steele was a recent addition to the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, but Michael was not recruited. He was a walk-on try out player who has found an unconventional way to the CIS. Steele attended Windsor Secondary school out in North Vancouver, not a hotbed for hoops, but was considered primarily a football school.

However, Michael had found a passion for this game early. He told me what it took for him to get in the gym,  “when I was in grade nine I wanted to get in the gym and work on my game, but the gym was never open.  So what I [would] do is ask my home-ec teacher, who would go in early to do marking, to let me in and get some shots up.”

He knew that this was something he could excel in and even though Windsor’s program wasn’t prominent in his early years, he persisted through the uphill climb.  Steele went on to explain it was tiring at times, knowing that even though he was the key contributor to their success, he wasn’t getting much recognition from schools both in the CIS and the CCAA.

“There were times in grade 11 and grade 12 where I felt I wasn’t going to ever get the recognition I deserved, and this made me doubt if I had a future with basketball or not,” Steele told NPH.

“But one summer I went on a vacation and I was separated from the game for three or four weeks and ball was the only thing on my mind. That’s when I knew I had to keep going.”

And that is just what he did…he persisted through the trials and tribulations and found to have his best, and most fulfilling year as a senior. And although Steele was never cut from a team the same way the GOAT was, it was a sense of rejection that could not be avoided with his talents and lack of outreach from coaches.

After his senior season he decided to attend Camosun College in Victoria, B.C. where he played for two years. Following success at Camosun, he was adamant to return to the mainland, and here he earned a spot on the Capilano University (CCAA).

Once he had arrived there, he still worked to earn every second of playing time. While he was there he still had ambitions to play at the next level.  However he knew that his future would lay within his academics.  After a good year at Capilano he decided to transfer to his current destination, the University of British Columbia.

UBC has retained a standard of absolute excellence with regards to its basketball program.

The rough and tough Coach Hanson has managed to keep the team among the cream of the crop in CIS basketball for years, and even in transition seasons, such as last with new players, he kept the Thunderbirds very relevant. This year he is looking at the same type of environment, to the point where he has accepted a walk on.

Michael Steele boasts defensive tenacity, willingness to play within the team and for the team, as well as a gorgeous stroke from fifteen to twenty-five feet out, giving him great range. This was more than enough to get his new coach’s interest.

However, it wasn’t just his game that gave him this opportunity.

“Kevin [Hanson] called my old coach to ask about me, and before anything basketball related came up, he was raving about my attitude and presence in the locker room.”

Courtesy: Vancouver Sports Pictures

“That it goes to show, how you act and how you carry yourself is just as vital as your on court skills.” And in this regard, having sat down and talked to Michael about his journey he maintains a positive outlook, as he begins to fight for playing time.

Now some may question Steele’s talent, and those same people may question the amount of talent within the CIS, and thus question the relevancy of this article entirely. However, I can combat these questions with the following.

Firstly, we recently saw Steele get a chunk of playing time, of about seven minutes. In this time, he shot 100% from the field, including a three pointer and a pair of mid-range pull ups, he played hard and lead Hanson to comment, “He came in…made some great plays and made some great decisions.”

Secondly, the CIS is a talent filled league, it has seen a slew of NCAA Division One players (including UBC’s Brylle Kamen), as well as talents from the United States and of course some of Canada’s top players. This is combined with a twenty-four second shot clock that makes the game faster and more physical as opposed to the states where they are allowed a thirty-five second shot clock.

And finally, the pursuit of Steele’s hoop dreams is relevant because it may not end here. Recently, a UBC Thunderbird made a name for himself at the 2011 Shenzen Universiade, which is similar to the Olympics only the teams are strictly comprised of college players or athletes depending on the sport.

Nathan Yu performed exquisitely leading the Canadian men’s team to a silver medal finish and even toppled the mighty Americans. Yu played well enough to earn a contract in a pro men’s league in Hong Kong, and while this league isn’t the most widely recognized pro basketball league, it can open doors to the Chinese Pro Basketball circuit, which has recently entertained the masses with NBA talent, including JR Smith, Wilson Chandler, and Kenyon Martin.

With this being said, it is not impossible to say that if Michael Steele is to finally get recognition for the gifts he has been granted and worked for, he may find himself playing professionally somewhere down the road.

This is not to say basketball will be the end all be all of his life. He also spoke to me of the doors UBC basketball will open for him, that the alumni really look out for all involved in the team’s rich tradition, and “UBC basketball is a big thing with a network of people” which will help him through Sauder Business school.

“The people that you’ll meet in the time here and the support you get is huge.”

This article is not meant to bolster or profile a player exclusively. Michael can be looked at as an example for anyone in a small town, or small school, who knows they want to pursue their dreams. Basketball can open up doors, and even if Michael never steps onto a pro platform, he has found ways to better pursue careers off the court.

He never gave up, even when the odds seemed to be stacked against him from the very beginning.  This is a message to the youth and the people fighting for their chance on a big stage to persist.  Keep attacking and each mile, each shot, and every drop of blood and sweat will be accounted for, and that hard work you put in, will pay off.


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