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Olympic champion Andre De Grasse brings back his annual holiday … –

As the cacophony of basketballs bounce across the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre in Scarborough, Olympic gold medallist Andre De Grasse is beaming.

As he walks through the basketball gym doors, a stream of people follow, floating along the court for the first time in three years at his latest Andre De Grasse Holiday Classic on Dec. 28. Meanwhile, youth players are scattered around, practicing for their upcoming game in the charity tournament that will see all proceeds go to the Andre De Grasse Family Foundation and Kids Help Phone.

At the pinnacle of men’s track and field, De Grasse is still infatuated with basketball. Despite being an Olympic athlete in an individual sport, he didn’t do it on his own. The basketball teams that are put together here and throughout his past still inform him today.

“I still kind of got that team atmosphere from track, whether that was having my coach, having my trainer, my therapist. So, I kind of use that as if that was my team, that was like my basketball team. That’s now my team.”

Up until the last year of high school at Milliken Mills in Markham, basketball was his life. But when the team shuttered, he turned to track after a conversation with a friend. Although the sports looked different on the surface De Grasse saw the through lines and applied them.

“I think I just learned, a lot of athleticism that I had to take from basketball to track. I learned that in track you have to do a lot of plyos and a lot of explosive stuff, so I kind of learned that from basketball, getting up there to dunk,” said De Grasse.

Studies have shown that playing multiple sports growing up leads to better motor, muscle and skill development but the most important thing for De Grasse is the shift in mindset. Being an effective basketball player takes constant training and discipline. To become an Olympic athlete, it has taken an immense amount of sacrifice.

De Grasse is back hosting his basketball tournament, which he ran in Markham, his hometown, for three years before the COVID-19 pandemic. This year it’s in Scarborough, where De Grasse grew up playing basketball for the Scarborough Blues. Back then De Grasse was a natural athlete, playing both soccer and basketball as a kid, inspired by the likes of former Toronto Raptors stars Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady.

“Sacrifice is another thing as well because, you know, you got to get up every day. I got to get after my dream and when you’re doing basketball, it’s the same thing,” said De Grasse, who was recently inducted into the Scarborough Walk of Fame. “Like, you got to make sacrifices, learning that from my coaches. I just took to track.”

During his time in high school, he also played against Golden State Warriors forward and NBA champion Andrew Wiggins, who attended Vaughan Secondary School. De Grasse remembers the buzz was immense during their first round playoff game, and the gym was “going crazy” as fans from all over the city came to see the highly-touted Wiggins play. Looking back, De Grasse can see there were similarities he noticed between the two of them.

“We’re kind of introverted, kind of quiet. So, he was kind of a quiet guy. I was and still am kind of a quiet guy. I think what I learned was from other people, what they were saying about him. Focus on yourself and let the rest come to you.”