At 27, a Kashmiri basketball coach in Canada has already mentored over 2000 underprivileged players. But the mission is still far from over for this boy whose roots lie in Baramulla. The next stopover is NBA, reports Riyaz Ul Khaliq
At a time when Muslims across America are passing through tough times due to situation having its epicentre in Middle East, a young Kashmiri is working to cast away the mistrust among non-Muslims in the region. This Baramulla boy is trying his bit to normalize “image” besides to show that Muslims are productive members of society.
Militancy was waning when Adeel Sahibzada landed in New Delhi. His father had his mind changed who wanted to switch over to business but across oceans. “He wanted to give us best education possible,” says Adeel. “I am his only son – although he had his business interests, too.”
Hailing from Khanpora Baramulla, Altaf Sahibzada, Adeel’s father, is in real estate ever since he set foot in Canada in 1999. Adeel had freshly passed his Cass 5 when he left Delhi for Canada. Then, he was only 11. As the family found their new home in Toronto, Adeel went on to pass his Class 12 with brilliance.
Later, he studied political science and economics at college level followed by Masters in International Relations. “My thesis ‘Reviving the Forgotten Conflict: A Study of the Kashmiri Struggle Using the Social mobilization Theory’ now stands completed,” he says.
Throughout his academic career, Adeel has studied by securing scholarships he earned because of his basketball abilities. While growing up, Adeel was bewitched by basketball craze across America. He too learned and eventually represented his school teams in tournaments across Canada. So far, he has already played the game at semi-pro level.
“It is a common feature in the region that those with special abilities in sports get easily support for their education career,” he says, “Alhamdu lillah! I have got three such scholarships that helped me to done my MA.”
At University of New Brunswick, he says, he earned basketball scholarship. “But, I got hurt. Luckily, I earned second one from University of Waterloo and started playing again.” He also played with Canadian Regional Elite Development Academy (REDA) sponsored “Canada Select Basketball Team”.
While scaling heights, Adeel was getting disturbed with pervasive homelessness in Canada. He was still in college when he made plans for a collective response to help his marginalized countrymen. “I spelled out my idea of creating a space where we could make opportunities easy for those who cannot avail them,” he says. “With the result, DeenUP Athletics was formed.”
“Deen, an Arabic, Aramaic and Hebrew word, means ‘way of life’, is very much close to my religion,” he says.
While explaining the idea behind the start-up, Adeel says, when one says DeenUP Basketball, it means –‘enrich your quality of life through basketball’. “Here in Canada, the word Deen has multiple meanings, and normalizing the word in everyday conversations is important.”
Based in Ontario (out of Toronto), DeenUP Athletics is a social enterprise providing basketball training and mentorship for children and youth between the ages of 5-19. It conducts basketball clinics and training camps, coach teams, and provides one-on-one training for individuals throughout North America.
Its vision, Adeel says, is to help develop the next generation of leaders and help marginalized youth rise above their circumstances by cultivating basketball skills, encouraging academic performance, and providing support.
“Besides its goal is to provide youth with athletic and academic opportunities that will help them shape their own futures and contribute as productive members of society,” he adds.
Winner of “Agents of Change” Award from Centre for Social Innovation in 2013, Adeel says, in last three years, his organisation has mentored around 2000 youth from Canada and the United States of America.
“I have three full time workers in DeenUP and six trainers,” he says. “Youth from cities across North America come to Ontario seeking families for their sponsorship after we select top players from our camps and clinics (weekly camps).”
DeenUP is now a promoting company of “BiggerThanBasketball Preparatory Academy” (BTB Prep Academy), he says. “It is at this academy that we train the players. They are charged for training but we ensure that they get scholarships for their survival.”
At present, BTB Prep Academyhas enrolled boys coming from marginalizedand poor neighbourhoods. “So for them,” he says, “we apply for grants and sometimes just subsidize the costs for them.” A lot of kids are from single parent households – namely single mothers, he informs.
“They come from North American ghettos,” he says. “Get a basketball scholarship since it costs $10, 000 per year for tuition alone or even get away from the violence and crime in their communities.”
Out of 2000 students who got training from BTB Prep Academy, Adeel says, approximately, 70+ have pursued basketball full time and around 35 have already got basketball scholarships. “At this time about 50% of our athletes have received scholarships that number is coming closer to 100% this year.”
All the enrolled players find families in Toronto to sponsor them, Adeel says, andBTB Prep Academyis looking to institute lodging component sometime in 2017.
A regular visitor of valley, Adeel now plans to launch a junior academy at Canada. But having mentored 2000 players already, Adeel is set to become College/University coach. “But, I am eyeing NBA (National Basketball Association),” he says.
Most of his players are non-Muslims, Adeel says, the 80% non-Muslim know the founders of the organization are Muslim. “The name is Muslim, but they know, the focus is on building stronger and better communities. Because at the end of the day, that is what Islam teaches us.”
Islam is not an ‘exclusive’ religion for Muslims only, he says, its reach is very ‘inclusive’. “Our Prophet (SAW) teaches us, the best of us are those who bring the greatest benefit to humanity, not just to Muslims.”