We all know that Lacrosse is a Canadian sport, but it’s almost hard to believe that basketball is a sport that originated in Canada too, only because the US has taken the ball, so to speak, and run away with it, turning b-ball into the huge phenomenon that it is. It is a sport where the players are idolized and the teams are looked upon as family almost and rooted for by feverishly passionate fans. It’s a fun sport, a thrilling sport, a sort of poetry-in-motion sport, where superbly toned athletes run up and down the court slam-dunking, alley-ooping, and flicking their wrists from downtown to the delight of fans around the world. The players make it look so easy too, making you think that you could take to the court and perform the feats of magic like they do with no problem.

But y’all know that’s not true.

It is a gruelingly competitive, highly skilled sport, that thousands play but few excel at.

Last May, Canada’s national team held their two-month training camp in Toronto and British Columbia. While 35 of Canada’s finest basketball players were invited, only 12 made the cut. Among them was Waswanipi’s own Titus Channer, the first Native ever to make the team. He has finished his first season on the team and has just returned from the World Basketball Championships, held in Indianapolis. With only three weeks of team preparation where Titus was named as the starting Point Guard, Team Canada posted a record of two wins and three losses, defeating Venezuela and Lebanon, and finishing 13th out of 16 teams. Titus played an averaged 25 minutes a game and 14 points per game, not bad for a rookie.

Titus is no rookie to the game though. He has played on teams since he was 14, back when he was also into soccer, volleyball and track and field. He began playing one on one with his cousins Cargel, Norman and Robert in Hamilton and Waswanipi and fell in love with the game. A very goal oriented guy, he set out to climb the ladder of teams and hone his skills. He made his first team in Grade 9 and gradually made it to the university level where he became a star. He collected many awards along the way, such as rookie of the year, player of the year (twice!), and was all-time leading scorer with 1494 points. In 1998 he received the prestigious Howard Mackie award, which is based on athletic accomplishment, outstanding sportsmanship and leadership qualities, as CIAU male athlete of the year. Titus was instrumental in leading the Me Master Marauders to several titles in a row and holds the 13th and 29th place for most points in a single game with 37 and 32. His interests in urban planning and other cultures led him to graduate in 1998 with a B.A. in Geography and Anthropology, maintaining an A- average.

That cultural curiosity has been put to good use as Titus has spent the last four years playing pro ball in Finland, Austria and Switzerland, where he averages about 23 points a game. A nice gig if you can get it, as the team will set you up with an apartment, a car, plus a salary. It’s extremely Titus isn’t just your average jock. He is acutely aware of his position and responsibility as a role model, especially to Native youth. He knows of the hazards and pitfalls out there facing all youth, and he says that, “some people will always be out to put you down, especially when you’re good at what you do.” Titus has consciously made the choice to surround himself with positive things and positive people, which he says is really important. His parents have always been very supportive of him, his mother is full Cree and his father is Jamaican, and Titus is equally proud of both heritages. He brings it all and represents whether he is on the court or off. He has worked hard at bringing his wealth of experience and knowledge back to the community of Waswanipi and the Canadian community at large.

Extremely well spoken, he has been an avid public speaker at high schools and elementary schools across the country, relaying his experience as a Native and as a pro athlete.

Titus has not only been a counselor at basketball camps in Calgary, Moose Factory,

Six Nations and other communities. Together with his best bud Andrew Peters, he has taken on the task of starting his own b-ball camp in Waswanipi. Held the past 2 summers, camp “Rising Stars” was attended by 100 girls and boys between the ages of 7-17. Titus and Andrew brought in teachers, coaches and other university players to help out and make the week long camp a success. Even Titus’ sister, herself a Forward for Laurier University, was there. The camp was so warmly received that they have had requests from other communities to hold camps. So in the coming years, look for that in a community near you! Titus says that they have plans to expand the camps, hold tournaments, incorporate life-skills workshops and also provide services for any sport the youth might be interested in, such as soccer and track and field.

Now home in Hamilton on a brief break to recoup, regroup and hang with his girlfriend, Titus will be heading back to the European pro league in October until May. He will probably play in France this year, where he can put to use the French he learned while in Switzerland. After that, the next big goal is to help Team Canada make it to the 2004 Olympic games in Athens. Sixteen teams will earn the privilege to play in these historic games. In Australia two years ago, Team Canada placed a very respectable sixth. If things go according to Titus’ goals, we will all be glued to our TV sets as we watch #6, Titus Channer, break new grounds and forge new dreams for many a youngster.

As for long term goals, if the opportunity to play in the NBA should present itself, Titus will grab it. Otherwise he hopes to play pro ball for another five years, have a family and devote himself full-time to developing camps and giving back to the communities that helped make his dreams come true. For now, Titus is living up to the meaning of his name as “brave and strong.” To all the budding athletes out there he offers these words: “Don’t be afraid to dream about what you want. Try to set goals, start with something small leading up to something big. I’ve always set goals and worked at improving myself, not just as a student and an athlete, but as a person. It may sound corny, but with hard work, dreams do come true.” Words from the wise – the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.