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Hoop dreams for Arviat teen

Arviat’s Donald Baker Spence quickly achieved one of the goals towards realizing his dream of one day playing college basketball when he was selected to hit the court with Team Nunavut at the upcoming Arctic Winter Games (AWG) in Whitehorse.

Spencer, or DBS as he is known to his friends, has thought of little else other than college ball for the past two years.

The Arviat Wolves competing at the territorial basketball tournament are, back row from left, Ryan Bauer, (co-coach), Brayden Kaviok, Lou Mamgark, Lutie Kaviok, Donald Baker Spence, Alexander Angalik, Donald Suluk and Ryan Barbeau (co-coach), and front from left, Quentin Kablutsiak, Desmond Nibgoarsi, Lewis Pameolik and William Campbell in Cambridge Bay on Dec. 1, 2019. Photo courtesy Ryan Barbeau

At just 16 years of age, Spence led the Arviat Wolves to a 2-2 record at this year’s territorial tournament in Cambridge Bay – catching the eye of every evaluator in the gym as Arviat’s leading scorer and rebounder, while being quite effective at both ends of the court.

Wolves coach Ryan Barbeau said a monumental shift toward Spence becoming a complete basketball player has taken place during the past 90 days.

He said he believes Spence’s understanding of the game, leadership and overall skill developed so much because he was so invested in becoming a better player.

“All great athletes have three things in common,” said Barbeau. “They have an obsession with their craft, a desire to improve and a willingness to be coached.”

Spence takes full advantage of open-gym time at John Arnalukjuak High School to shoot baskets on his own and join a game after school.

Barbeau said the amicable teenager displays a passion for the sport that you just don’t see in many kids, and he truly loves the game.

He said Spence also loves to practice and work on his skills.

“For someone who has only been playing basketball for two years, I have been extremely impressed with his ability and his growth during the past three months.”

Spence said was pretty confident he played well at the territorial in Cambridge Bay.

And, perhaps even more importantly, his description of his time in Cambridge shows a level of maturity not always found in a 16 year old.

“It was a great experience to meet new people and play against the other good teams,” said Spence.

“And it was great to meet the other players from different communities.

“That was my first time in Cambridge Bay and it was an experience I will always remember.”

Barbeau said it’s awesome to hear and see all the kids interacting with each other and having a good time off of the basketball floor during the territorial.

He said basketball has a special way of bringing people together, and the Cambridge tournament was no exception.

“The kids from Arviat had the chance to meet new kids from Baker Lake, Pond Inlet, Iqaluit and Iglulik, as well as other communities,” said Barbeau.

“The thought of playing college basketball was always in the back of Donald’s mind but, after the territorial, he realized that it may be something that is realistic and extremely possible.

“Donald started playing basketball a little bit later than other kids, especially in the south where some kids are starting to play competitive basketball as early as Grade 4 or Grade 5.

“He has a long way to go in terms of his development – his love for the game is undeniable and his passion inspiring – but I truly believe there is nothing stopping him from getting there.”

While college ball is still a bit down the road for Spence, the AWG are just around the corner.

Spence will be among the youngest players on the court in Whitehorse. He will also be among the most competitive on the court, and among those enjoying the AWG experience the most away from it.

“I am excited,” said Spence. “I want to meet the other AWG players from Nunavut.

“It is going to be my first time in Whitehorse, and I think it’s going to be the furthest I have ever travelled.

“I am going to train very hard to be as prepared and ready as I possibly can be for the tournament.”