Hoop dreams come true for North Preston with opening of new NBA-sized court

Directly across the road from Saint Thomas Baptist church in North Preston, N.S., the sounds of dribbling, encouragement and laughter fill the air.

They’re coming from a new, professional grade, NBA-sized basketball court — a tribute to the sport that, like the church, holds a special place in the hearts of the residents of the historic black community. 

It’s only fitting, said Shaquille Smith, the man who is giving back to the place he calls home. 

“The court and the close proximity to the church, this is really the heart of the community,” said Smith, 26, who successfully raised $300,000 in public and private funding to build the court.

After entering Acadia University on a basketball scholarship, and graduating with a business degree in 2016, Smith wanted the next generation to have an easier time than he had pursuing sport and juggling school. 

Josiah Tynes, centre, is following other North Preston residents who punched their tickets to higher education through basketball scholarships. He will be attending Santa Fe College in Florida. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

He had good grades in high school, but had to bus to other communities just to play basketball.

The court in is home community was small and had cracks in the pavement. Often it was booked.

When he entered university, he encountered the challenges of being a student-athlete, but managed to push through. In 2016, he was chosen as the Student-Athlete Community Service Award recipient for Atlantic University Sport men’s basketball.

Smith now works as a digital strategist at a marketing agency in Halifax.

Smith said he wanted an oversized logo in centre court so that it could be seen from the air. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

“It was always a passion of mine to be able to give back to the youth to give them a basketball court that they deserve,” he said. 

Smith’s pitch drew financial support from his municipal councillor, HRM, the Nova Scotia government and McDonald’s.

The funds paid for the court, which is finished with an acrylic surface that gives balls better bounce. It’s ocean blue with an oversized logo at centre court that symbolizes waves — a nod to its proximity to the sea — and large lettering spells North Preston.

Metal bleachers flank one side of the court, and before long the chain link fence will be decorated with banners bearing the names of basketball “pioneers” who made it to university or college. He estimates there are at least 45 of them.

“They show the kids that it’s possible,” Smith said.

There are plans to add banners bearing the names of basketball “pioneers” from the community. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

But many of them went through “growing pains” trying to balance academics and athletics, and only a few were able to finish.

“It was just a lack of preparation, and it’s a different ballgame in university,” he said.

Smith said he hopes the court will help more kids score higher education with basketball as the game that propels them there.

The court’s grand opening on Saturday evening coincides with North Preston Days, a celebration of Nova Scotia’s largest black settlement.

After the ribbon-cutting and the fanfare, “I want to see lots of scuff marks on it and kids putting in the time and putting in the work on the court.”

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