The Edmonton area has its share of talent when it comes to professional sports. Whether it’s players born and raised here like Andrew Ference or Jennifer Heil or those who were born elsewhere and chose to make Edmonton home like Jamie Sale and Othieno Chi Bey-El (EJ Parris), we have a small city feel, but were home to some of the world’s best athletes. We’ve even got a basketball star that NBA 3-point phenom Steph Curry couldn’t touch.
Steve Sir was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1982 and moved to Edmonton with his family when he was 5. The sport came quite naturally to him beginning with the first utterance of the word “ball” while still a baby. It also ran deep in his DNA following in the footsteps of his father who was recently inducted into the Iowa High School Hall of Fame and had a great career at Winona State University before playing professionally in Belgium.
When Sir began playing at the age of 5, he followed his dad’s advice and turned into a great shooter. Simple advice, like “bend your knees” and “hold your follow through” paid off for him as he entered school and played on his first community league team.
“When I turned 15, I had some serious goals for myself,” says Sir. “I wanted to be one the best high school players in Canada and play Division 1 college basketball in the United States.”
His cousin was playing Division 1 basketball at the University of Idaho at the time and Sir was able to watch his team practice during a trip down to Idaho for a tournament. He reflects on how strong and quick the players were and remembers walking away from that practice thinking how he was ever going to reach that level. That was an intense experience for a young athlete to see just how high the level was that he needed to be at and how much work it would take over the next few years to get there.
At the age of 15, Sir made the decision to completely commit to the game. In high school, while most students were headed to Westmount Mall at lunchtime, he lifted weights. After school while most were going to a movie with friends, he practiced with the Ross Sheppard Thunderbirds team. After a quick dinner at home he’d then go across the street to Ottewell Jr. High to work on is game some more.
“I would make anywhere from 800 to 1500 shots a night as these were similar numbers I saw elite high school players in the States saying their daily routines were so I wanted to match and exceed that,” he says.
Sir credits a great deal of his success to having some incredible coaches when he was growing up who helped him understand that coming early, staying late and the things you did when no one was watching were what made you a basketball player. They also stressed that it wouldn’t be easy and things wouldn’t always go his way but these habits would help carry him through and in the end, give him the best chance he had at success.
Like many committed athletes, Sir didn’t have much of a social life in high school. The running joke at Shep was that his girlfriend was Spalding (the brand of the basketball he used). But his team won Provincials in his grade 10 and 11 years. His Alberta Provincial team won the gold medal at the U17 National Championships and he was named the MVP after scoring 47 points in the final. He followed that up setting the scoring record at the biggest AAU summer tournament (the Adidas Las Vegas Big Time Tournament). Being featured in Sports Illustrated and SLAM magazine as an 11th grader proved to Sir that all of his sacrifices were paying off.
“Today, when I talk to young people about the experiences that led me to shoot the ball and play at a high level, I tell them that you have to be willing to do all the thankless things people will never see and spend the time others are not willing to spend,” he says.
It’s easy to do when everything is going well, it’s a lot tougher when you feel it’s not getting you where you want to be quickly enough. This same advice can be used for everything from being successful at your job, to being able to perform a handstand. Success often times produces complacency and over the years, Sir has been able to keep chasing the goals he set for himself without resting on what he’s already accomplished.
Sir finished up his high school playing career with the T-Birds and moved on to play with the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks in the NCAA. Remember that mention about Currie? Yep. Even he couldn’t break Sir’s college career 3-Point Field Goal Percentage record.
If you follow basketball, you know that the scene in Canada has changed a lot over the past 10+ years. Gone are the days of good players needing to move to the US to finish their high school just to be seen by scouts. As a teacher myself at the same school that produced the Plouffe sisters, it wasn’t uncommon for us to have players move to the states for grade 11 and 12 to get noticed. More people are playing, watching and being involved in the game than ever before and this has created a great deal of excitement and opportunity.
There used to be a stigma that Canadian players were too “soft” and couldn’t compete with Americans but more players have earned their opportunities and have gone on to play and succeed at some very high levels. That stigma hasn’t completely gone away yet because as a whole, Sir says that Canadians do not play as hard as American players but it has taken giant steps forward. Steve Nash kicked the door open for American coaches and programs to begin taking Canadians more seriously and when the NBA expanded to Toronto, Vince Carter and the Raptors provided players with the belief that they could one day play in the NBA. The scene for basketball in Canada is very exciting going forward.
Unfortunately for Steve, the calls from the NBA never came, but he has played pro basketball throughout the past 10 years in various European and Canadian leagues.
“When you describe to people the idea of travelling abroad to play basketball it sounds very exotic and fun,” he says. “Eventually it becomes … a job. It’s a grind at times. You stick to it because ultimately you love playing the game.”
He’s recently honed his game to the relatively new FIBA 3×3 game. It’s been around for a few years but has only begun to really gain attention in our area of the world due to it being announced as an Olympic sport in 2020. This is Sir’s first year playing on the 3×3 World Tour but he has been familiarizing himself with it for the past couple years as it looked like a great challenge. Basketball Alberta has hosted Canada’s longest running FIBA 3×3 tournament in Edmonton for the last 7 years with the idea that 3×3 would eventually become an Olympic sport.
The easiest way to explain 3×3 would be to compare beach volleyball to volleyball. 3×3 is played outdoors with games being played up to 21 points or whatever team is winning after 10 minutes. It is extremely physical, fast paced and a very exciting game that is blowing up in popularity around the world.
Playing for one of the top ranked teams in the world, Team Saskatoon, with his three teammates Michael Linklater, Michael Lieffers and Nolan Brudel, Sir is continuing to make a name for himself in the sport. Their goals are to continue playing at a high level on the 3×3 World Tour, to represent Canada at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and help 3×3 continue to grow around the country.
Training to play professional basketball is in most cases, like anything else on the professional level. It requires a great deal of effort and time dedicated towards doing the right things to have yourself ready to compete at a high level. If you haven’t been doing the right things to prepare, it will stand out immediately when you join your team.
When playing professional basketball outside of the NBA, you can get a phone call on a Monday, sign with a team on Tuesday and be leaving on a Thursday. It can be that quick. If you are one of the majority of players that signs a contract later in the summer or even into the fall, training camps have begun and you are joining a team that has already begun with preparations so the expectation is you had better show up in shape and ready to go or you could be turning around to go home very quickly.
There are very different expectations for import players than locals (import players are anyone brought from outside that country’s borders and every foreign league has a limit to how many imports a team can sign). Players often don’t have time to feel the situation out and take their time getting ready. Teams expect results and if that isn’t happening, other options for players will usually be discussed.
The tricky part is that you don’t know when the phone call or job offer might come and this can be very stressful not knowing where your end point is. That is the challenge however, not letting your training be affected due to this stress that often times, you can’t do much to control. It is much easier said than done though, a lot of people pursuing playing abroad cannot handle that aspect of not knowing and still maintaining a heavy training schedule.
Training has certainly changed for Sir as he’s aged in ways everyone goes through. It takes longer to warm up and the first couple steps in the morning can be a little rough at times. He bought into the idea of maintenance and recovery in college as he knew one day the problems that come with getting older would set in.
“An older teammate at San Diego State gave me the advice that even when I am feeling good, I should be on the treatment table or getting in the ice tub,” he says.
Improving himself wasn’t limited to what he did on the court so it was important to be proactive by finding ways to be at his best and always preparing for what was next. He’s been bugged over the years by his teammates for how often he stretches and foam rolls but he knows how he feels when he doesn’t do those things, especially now, so he makes sure to set the time aside and have that be part of his routine.
How he trains hasn’t had to change much. Like many athletes his age, he’s had his fair share of injuries and worked through them all. From a comfort standpoint, he still feels confident and prepared to play by training a certain way and fortunately, his body has held up to continue this way.
“On the court, it’s a lot of drill, competitive situations and conditioning,” he says. “There’s no better way to train for basketball than playing basketball.”
One thing that has altered training times for Sir has been having kids. There is no heading to the gym to train in the middle of the day anymore. It’s fun for this dad being up in the morning getting the kids ready for the day and being home for bedtime. There are more early morning workouts and some later at night so being smart with his time becomes important but well worth it.
Sir sees Canada continuing to make strides to be one of the top basketball countries in the world. It’s an exciting time for basketball in Canada and there is no reason why this shouldn’t continue. Once he wraps up his playing career, he sees himself being involved in the game from an instruction standpoint.
“I have some serious goals I’ve set in that area that are beginning to take shape and will continue to push myself to accomplish them,” he says.
He’s also looking forward to coaching his daughters in community league when they are ready for it. Some of Sir’s favourite basketball memories are waking up early Saturday morning and being a mix of nerves and excitement in the car driving with his Dad to play in community games that they had been waiting all week for.
The student is becoming the teacher. And we’re confident that Canadian basketball will be in good hands.