6’10’’ Giant from Sauga Still Striving for the Heights of the N.B.A.

Shout out to Hurricane Hazel for keeping us off these Sauga streets. Shout out to the Youth Advisory Committee for taking the initiative to fix these courts. Photo by Tacian South.

Ten years ago, I was playing King’s Court with a friend and his dad on a freshly paved concrete of my Oakville private high school. I had heard tales and rumours of a gigantic basketball player from Port Credit Secondary School, a five minute drive from where I lived.

His name was Jasonn Hannibal.

My friend’s dad — overestimating his own son’s ability in comparison to Jasonn’s — gave me his scouting report on the local giant. Though my memory’s hazy, he said something along the lines of: ‘Jasonn sucks. He can’t play. He’s just tall.’

Just as rich kids are assumed to have been born into success and wealth without ever having worked for it, many assume that Big Men ball just because they won the genetic lottery. Yes, size does matter, but it isn’t everything — height alone doesn’t get you onto an N.B.A. Summer League roster. Sitting on a bench of a recently refurbished Huron Park ball court, Jasonn charts the progress he’s made since his early days at Port Credit.

As he reflects, I realize that it’s his grit — a Hurricane Hazel type of toughness — rather than his height, which propelled him to reach the peak of his playing career; the chance to play on the Washington Wizards’ Summer League squad this past summer.

Jasonn got a small window of opportunity — a mere 6.5 minutes — to prove himself to an N.B.A. franchise, but few appreciate the unseen hours spent grinding to create an opportunity of this magnitude.

He first set foot on the University of Portland campus in 2007. He’d gone on a basketball scholarship, but had a rude awakening. Having played for Port Credit — a school known more for its music program than sports — he was ill-prepared for the pace of D1 ball.

Portland was a four year grind. “Man, I sat on the bench…and I’m getting my ass kicked in practice every single day,” he recollects of his college career.

This was his first ever “grit test”. He was tempted, especially in his first year, to come back home and commute to York or U of T instead, but he decided to be the smaller fish in a bigger pond. He remained committed to the Pilots. Developing grit in college had set the foundation for his future professional career. After graduating, he travelled to Serbia, Kosovo, Ottawa, Halifax, Mexico, and Iran — that’s 5 countries in 5 years — globetrotting to make a living playing ball.

He had endured the initial ass-kicking in Portland, but had adapted quickly. He lived out of a suitcase for five years before he interned for the Wizards, “essentially as a practice player” according to Jasonn. By being a player development intern for a year, he earned a spot on the Summer League roster.

During his internship, Jasonn practiced with N.B.A. stars, the likes of John Wall and Bradley Beal. Wall had dunked on him in practice and Jasonn had to fight the superstar for rebounds. In one-on-one games, “Markieff Morris was barbecuing me on defence,” says Jasonn. Though it was N.B.A. baptism by fire, he also picked their brains and listened to their basketball journeys, allowing him to put himself in their shoes.

He took this experience to the Vegas Summer League, but he didn’t get the P.T. he had hoped for. How he views his time on the bench, however, attests to the gritty mentality he has developed over the years. Jasonn says, “I was on the bench almost jittering” with the expectation to play every game. He refused to be weathered by the monotony of working out and warming the bench. His friend and ex-teammate from Kosovo, Shamar Coombs, echoes a similar mentality — a professional has to be “mind focused and ready” to rise to any occasion, however limited the opportunity maybe.

Jasonn is searching for his next pro ball gig, but his self-confidence remains unshaken. Like every summer since 2013, he spent the past one training with Father Goetz legend, N.B.A. vet, and Sauga’s (quite literally) biggest export, Andrew Nicholson. Practicing with the Wizards for an entire season, fully immersed in the presence of N.B.A. players, has no doubt infused high self-expectations.

The giant from Port Credit has big dreams — he’s still striving to play for The Association. Coming home and playing at OVO Bounce, however, has reminded Jasonn that he still has to prove himself despite his hoops accolades. He remains humbler than a Kung Fu Kenny track and assertively says of his N.B.A. chances: “I believe I’m in the mix.”

This post was made possible through PINDAB, which unites creative types with professional athletes to shed light on community issues.

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