The new year has not been good to the Toronto Raptors. But the Raptors can make the new year good to you.

Sai Rathakrishna, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Photo Source: PBS

The Toronto Raptors enter the 2020-21 season with just two wins over their first ten games. Currently, they have one of the worst win-loss records in the National Basketball Association (NBA), a league made up of thirty teams. Their struggle to secure victories is a trending topic among sports analysts, who are questioning whether the team should still be considered a serious championship contender.

This is a team that not only delivered us a championship title in 2019, but also an electrifying time to be alive. So I admit that it’s heartbreaking to watch them repeatedly fall short of their expectations now. Nevertheless, my New Year’s resolution is to watch as many Raptors games as I can — I’m talking about regular season and playoff games. That’s because the team’s efforts amount to more than a win or loss. The conspicuous numbers and projections that inundate sports media coverage cause us to overlook a group of remarkable people. These people embody values that can be applied in diverse contexts, even to the endeavours of the UofT student. That’s why I recommend the experience of watching the Raptors to you, reader. It’s the human aspect of the game which truly makes watching the team worthwhile. 

Let’s take Fred VanVleet, for example. For the student who is immediately disheartened by the sight of a poor grade, look no further than this 26-year-old guard to inspire you to bounce back. Known endearingly to fans as “Steady Freddy”, VanVleet always steps on the court with an unwavering confidence in his ability to make an impact (hence the nickname). His in-game tendencies are almost mechanical: every shot is taken without the slightest recoil, even if he missed the last few. Though it can look risky to viewers at home, VanVleet is also willing to run right through a couple of burly, 7-foot defenders if there’s the smallest window of opportunity to score a basket. 

VanVleet’s unfazed demeanour is so admired by Raptors fans that it has evolved into a lifestyle. His motto “Bet on yourself” graces the Instagram captions of many Toronto locals. It also features prominently on his website where you can find merchandise that could give our beloved UofT Bookstore a run for its money. The phrase is about more than spontaneously taking a gamble. Prior to the season’s commencement, Toronto decided to bet on VanVleet when they offered him a 4-year $85 million contract to remain with the team. VanVleet signed the largest contract to ever be offered to a previously undrafted NBA player. This event was realized because he continued to accept his failures; therefore, he simply refused to fold.

Now, most of us at UofT don’t plan to make millions of dollars playing professional basketball for the best city in the world. But living by VanVleet’s simple yet powerful motto can help anyone to succeed in their own lane. In a Nov. 24 news conference, VanVleet addressed the growing influence of his brand. “That’s the fun part for me, seeing how this following is kind of growing and watching everybody try to pretend to be underdogs and adopt the ‘Bet on yourself’ thing. It’s becoming mainstream now, which is hilarious to me.” Nothing is stopping you, fellow student, from waking up one day and deciding that you are the underdog. If it can help you to achieve your goals, then you might as well give it a try!

Chris Boucher is also one to keep an eye on this season. The journey of the Raptors’ only current Canadian player begins with washing dishes at a Montreal restaurant and continues as he competes against the greatest talents in basketball. The 28-year-old center has redefined his potential every year since his addition to the roster in 2018. In spite of the team’s struggles this season, he has been a force to reckon with on the scoring and defensive ends.

At the heart of Boucher’s continual growth is his resolve to maximize every opportunity. Watching him display this resolve on the court will convince you to do previously inconceivable things, like giving yourself enough time to consult with your college Writing Centre before submitting an essay. Or, perhaps even more wild, you may suddenly find yourself regularly attending a professor’s office hours, simply because you want to learn more.

Two months ago, Boucher inked a two-year deal reportedly worth US $13.5 million. In a Nov. 25 press conference following the signing of his contract, Boucher asserted, in his Canadian humility, that he will remain the same person at his core. “I think money won’t change [who I am],” he said. It’s definitely going to help me with my family. I don’t want my mom to work no more. That’s definitely one thing I’m going to take care of. And… I think just to try to keep the love of basketball, try to get better, not get too comfortable and learn from my mistakes.” The sense of purpose that Boucher radiates in every game is the ideal source of motivation for the student who is completely drained of it. Keeping in touch with your passions and your priorities, just as Boucher does, can give you the strength needed to secure that internship or to write the perfect statement of interest for your grad school applications.

VanVleet and Boucher are just two bright spots on a team that is replete with inspiring characters and uplifting stories. Whether you’re put off by their recent performances or you could care less about sports, I encourage you to catch a Raptors game every now and then. Seeing their championship-tested, unrelenting mindset is exactly what you need to start this year with the right game plan.

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