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Matt Johnson

Q&A: Overseas Basketball Association on helping Asian newcomers, making difference through hoops



May 25, 2023

Founded in 2014, Overseas Basketball Association hosts events and runs programming for newcomers to Canada, using sport to help newcomers transition to a new country. Specifically helping Asian newcomers, the organization attempts to bring the community together through basketball.

In collaboration with Jr. NBA, Overseas Basketball Association's Wish A Ball program organizes events for low-income communities, where basketballs and other items such as books and shoes are gifted to participants — all with the same goal of using basketball as a tool to bridge the gap for newcomers.

To celebrate Asian Heritage Month, Canada Basketball caught up with Jennifer Ju Siu, a consultant and coach for the organization, on her role, what the program’s impact on the community has been like, her co-worker and Jr. NBA Coach of the Year finalist Jason Ye and more.

You’ve been involved with the Overseas Basketball Association over the last year. What have you noticed about the program during your time?

It’s transformative forsure. I mean, personally, in Asian families in particular, there is such a focus on academic work and less on sports and wellness. Having the opportunity to bring people together through sport and have Asian communities learn more and engage more about sports, as well as see youth who are Asian in particular, love, care and grow from sport is amazing. 

In the culture here, I see students come in and there are huge language and cultural barriers. Some students come and they don’t speak any English and of course, there’s different cultural behaviours and norms. Having them thrive within our program, find friendships, and find something that they like to do — we do a lot of play-based learning — having them come out of their shell and learn English is really powerful. 

Why do you think sport can be such a powerful tool?

I think it’s really disrupting the stigma and stereotypes around Asian culture and Asians in sports. When we look at representation — the demographic is slowly changing in terms of who is involved in sports and who is on elite teams. When I was growing up, there wasn’t that representation. 

So now that I see people more engaged in sports and engaged in wellness, participating in this sort of programming in the community, it’s great. They see the representation. They see that the sporting world is more de-stigmatized. They feel more welcomed in the sport. And I myself, as a Chinese person, feel that too. I’m able to even be in a position where I can coach youth. Before — I didn’t see anyone like me. 

What’s it like seeing this program thriving, serving low-income communities and making a difference in the community? 

It’s definitely inspirational. It’s inspiring to be able to see that we are doing this and that in real-time, we are experiencing change and we’re experiencing growth in the community — and with this demographic in particular. It’s almost like — not to be all cliche — but it feels like I’m dreaming. I never really felt growing up that this was possible. 

I grew up in very diverse spaces, and I didn’t see one Asian coach, really in any elite programming, especially any women. I didn’t see a lot of programs catering to newcomers. I didn’t see any programs catering to people with special needs. I didn’t see a lot of programming that was truly welcoming to low income demographics. So to be able to participate, to spearhead this, to engage the community through this sort of programming is inspired. We’re constantly disrupting the norm, and it's wonderful.

What do you think that the Overseas Basketball Association will look like in the next 10 years?

That’s something we’re thinking about a lot. Right now, our demographic is largely Chinese newcomers. We want to be able to create more programming like this for all newcomers. We want to grow this program so that the reach is throughout all of the Greater Toronto Area, if not further. 

We really believe in diversifying the programming and being accessible to areas where basketball programs like this are not typically accessible. We want to expand. We want to grow. We want to be able to offer this program to many spaces in Toronto, beyond just North York, Vaughan, and Markham.

Why did you choose to be involved with the Overseas Basketball Association?

I’m Chinese for one. In school, I’m studying social justice education. I find that in retrospect, I haven’t been able to really contribute to the Chinese community. I wanted to find a program that really resonated with my core values in supporting newcomers to Canada and supporting people in attaining social justice in Canada, and of course, I’m passionate about basketball.

Jason Ye is the co-founder of the Overseas Basketball Association. He was a Jr. NBA Coach of the Year finalist, after being nominated by the Toronto Raptors last year. I wanted to ask about him specifically. He’s had such a big impact on this organization. What’s it been like for you to work alongside him and see what he really means?

He is so selfless. He’s honestly so selfless. He has such a big heart. He has a large family but it’s like he has five assistants, but he has none — he’s just working by himself. He’s constantly visiting different locations. He’s constantly interacting and trying to support newcomers who want to come to Toronto. He’s constantly communicating to them on the website. He’s trying to help newcomers manage any personal issues they might be experiencing being a newcomer to Canada. It’s astounding. It’s no wonder he was nominated for Jr. NBA Coach of the Year. He just does this out of the goodness of his heart — and he has a full-time job [outside of Overseas Basketball Association].

His presence and his values really transcend through the program. You can see why people are coming into the program and giving back. You can see why there’s a higher retention rate in our program. People see people in leadership roles like him. Jason is always looking to improve the program. He recently implemented the coach training clinic, which I am the lead on. He’s bettering his coaches and pouring a lot of resources into development on all levels in the program. He really believes that youth deserve the best. If you work with him for a couple of days, you would automatically see that he gives everything to the program.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from him?

I've learned about how he ensures that this program is great for youth, while balancing the administrative side to make sure things are in place where he can make the best opportunities for the kids. If there’s an issue, as funny as he is, he really ensures that he gets things done that are the best for the program — especially for the program. Witnessing that, I’m just in awe that he’s able to do that. The command that he has over both the administrative aspect where he’s managing issues and people, while he’s also able to cater to youth development is seamless.

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Overseas Basketball Assocation is hosting an event on Saturday, May 27 at King Square Sports Centre in Markham, Ont. from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m to celebrate Asian Heritage Month. The event will highlight Asian businesses that have been successful in Canada to help inspire the next generation of youth. Also planned is a two-hour youth basketball clinic. For more information, visit