Etienne Jacquet speaks with a soft voice, but his message to the local basketball community should be loud and clear.
Entering his second full season as head coach of the Algoma University Thunderbirds men’s basketball team, Jacquet wants to make the best of COVID-19 and instead of sitting around and doing nothing, he wants to make sure kids in this community still have a place to play and develop.
That’s why he’s in the midst of finalizing a program called EJ Ballers that will give male players from Grades 5-12 an opportunity to practice, play and develop with three-day a week sessions, all scheduled for Algoma University.
He’s hoping to create an atmosphere similar to the Jr. Thunderbirds program that currently caters to female players in the Sault. He said he wants to run sessions for boys in Grades 5-6, 7-8, 9-10 and for those in Grades 11-12.
“We’re really just looking for kids that want to learn a bit about basketball, nothing too serious,” Jacquet said. “We just want to give them some activities to do during these tough times.”
For Jacquet, it’s not only a chance to give back to the community, but also an opportunity to introduce his program and players to so many of today’s kids.
“It’s disappointing that we may not have a season this year because you always want to have the ability to compete against different people, but at the same time this gives us an opportunity to do other things that we might not have been able to do, like getting out into the community and getting everybody together, practising and getting the skill level higher.
“You have to see it as an opportunity to develop a relationship with the community and provide a service to the community that’s needed at a time when everything is shut down.”
With so much uncertainty when it comes to athletics, Jacquet says the goal is to keep kids active and to give them an environment to hone their skills. While Jacquet will serve as the lead instructor, his Algoma players will also help out and will follow the blueprint he’s put together.
The goal is to have the boys practice twice a week and scrimmage on the weekends.
And while he still putting the finishing touches on the program, he said interested parents can reach out to him by email at email@example.com
“For me it’s a way for our players to be working a bit, to get some dollars and be out in the community working. If I have the players ready to teach the kids, then it’s not too much work. I will be there to supervise but we want the kids to see the university players and to get to know them.
“It’s a dual thing for us. We want the kids to have a relationship with university kids, get to know them and that gives us a chance to be out in the community and to showcase what we can offer as a school.”
As a coach, Jacquet brings a lot of experience to Sault Ste. Marie. He has coached at multiple levels and once served as an assistant coach on the Ottawa Skyhawks, a professional team that played in the National Basketball League of Canada.
He also ran a prep program for high school kids at Thetford Academy just outside Quebec City and now coaches University ball.
“I guess you can say I just love the game,” Jacquet said. “I’m a student of the game and I always felt like the game was fun and that’s what got me into coaching. I just want to teach this game to young, open-minded individuals."