VANCOUVER — There is an old saying about how having vision can help you to see the impossible.
Those are words that Michael Chany understands all too well, because while his eyes have been witness to his own adversity, growing up in a financially challenged, single-parent environment on the city’s East Side, it’s been his innate inner vision which has steered him towards a future few may have predicted for him.
“I remember as a really young kid, I wanted to study astronomy,” begins Chany, a basketball star and freshly-minted Class of 2017 graduate of Gladstone Secondary School.
“I just always thought that it was cool to think that there could be something else out there, that there are places that we still haven’t discovered.”
Whether he knows it or not, that is the voice of hope within him talking.
And in no small way, it’s how the eldest child of a Sudanese refugee mom, at the age of 18, became the man of the house, both with his own family and his high school basketball team.
Now, come this fall, Michael Chany will beat back another set of odds as he begins collegiate life as both a student and basketball player at North Vancouver’s Capilano University.
HARD TO MISS
For Cassidy Kannemeyer, the full-circle feeling is unmistakable.
Years ago, as a student support worker at Vancouver’s Thunderbird Elementary School, he would go out and help the kids on the soccer field over their noon break.
“That’s where I first saw Michael, and I noticed his physical gifts at the age of 10,” says Kannemeyer, who has not only helped mentor Chany over the years, but as Capilano’s head coach, had the pleasure of recruiting him into the program as part his deep-and-talented incoming freshman class.
“When he got to Grade 7, I encouraged him to come to Vancouver Eagles basketball camps,” Kannemeyer continued. “I remember that was at Kitchener Elementary, out on the west side, and after three weeks, he was the best player there.”
Another key mentor in those early years was Steve Anderson, a longtime Vancouver high school coach, who first met Chany as a fifth-grader when he put on a Steve Nash youth program during his time as the recreation supervisor at the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre.
Six years later, in the fall of 2015, the pair were reunited when Chany, who had spent Grade 8 at Van Tech, and Grades 9-10 at Notre Dame, came to Gladstone where Anderson was the head coach.
“I have been coaching for the better part of 30 years and he is one of those dream athletes that when they land in your school can really change things” said Anderson of Chany.
“He is one of the best athletes I’ve ever coached,” continued Anderson. “He’s a great finisher in transition, and a really good shooter. But the biggest thing about him is that he sees the floor so well that he can play a lot of point guard.”
There is also another crazy part to his game, and it’s centred around Chany’s extraordinary leaping and dunking ability.
“The first time I ever dunked on a regulation hoop was in Grade 8 P.E. class,” he laughs. “We were supposed to be playing dodge ball, but I was off in the corner shooting and my friend said I should try to dunk. I did it on my first attempt.”
That skill has been refined over the years, and Chany has become prodigious enough that, coming off a Grade 12 season where he was coached by Jason Lewis and averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds per game, he competed in the B.C. high school slam dunk championships.
“He can touch 12 feet,” says Kannemeyer.
Adds Anderson: “He plays the game well above the rim, and it’s exciting to watch him, even in the warm-ups, because he dunks it with so much power and so much creativity. The way he can soar, its kind of like watching Shawn Kemp.”
A SLEEPER FOR THE BLUES?
As I write this piece, I am looking at a team picture from the summer of 2014.
It’s Basketball B.C.’s top Under-15 boys team, and I am thinking to myself that if you took this team straight into the Canadian U Sports ranks, you could challenge for a national title by the fourth year.
In the back row alone I spot four blue-chip 2017 high school grads in Kelowna’s Grant Shephard (UBC), Steveston-London’s Fardaws Aimaq, Vancouver College’s Sam Bailey (Simon Fraser) and Walnut Grove’s Andrew Goertzen (Victoria).
And in the front row, starting at the far right, I see Kelowna’s Mason Bourcier (UBC), Oak Bay’s Jaden Touchie (Victoria) and then…Michael Chany.
So what kind of player is Chany going to develop into under Kannemeyer?
The question is intriguing because of a most unique physique because while he stands 6-foot-3, he has a near 6-foot-9 wingspan.
Anderson throws out Kemp’s name because of the hops, the power and the untapped potential.
“He has a Kevin Durant-type body,” he says. “Smaller torso, but really long extremities. Just crazy limbs. So he fits what we want to do which is play with a lot of full-court pressure. But his gift isn’t just athleticism. It’s vision. He just sees plays develop before they happen.”
Quite impressively, Chany is also no slouch when it comes to knowing his recent NBA history.
For example, he is aware of the fact the Magic Johnson pioneered the era of the big point guard, and that Kemp brought power and artistry to the dunk.
Maybe that comes from hanging around with older guys like Anderson and Kannemeyer, who go out of their way to credit each other for playing a positive role in Chany’s development.
“Cassidy has known Michael since he was a young boy,” says Anderson, “and he has been a strong advocate for him. That has been critical.”
Adds Kannemeyer: “Steve has been a really big for Michael. He saw his extreme physical gifts and basically mentored him and gave him tough love. I also think the nurturing that has come from the staff at Gladstone has been really huge. So all of that, along with having the influence of a mom who works so hard for her kids, has really helped Michael.”
FINDING HIS FIT
Caroline Dixon, Gladstone’s athletic director, is a seasoned basketball mom whose daughter Abby begins her fifth-and-final year of university ball this fall as a starting guard for the Queen’s Gaels.
She is very well aware of the positive influence a star athlete can have on the younger kids in their high school.
And what she has seen this year is Michael Chany embracing his role as a campus leader at Gladstone.
“I see him walking down the hallway, and he has the smallest Grade 8 walking right beside him,” says Dixon. “That’s pretty cool. The culture of our school is so accepting, and Michael reaches out, too. He helped so much with reffing this year and he was happy to do it.”
“It was a struggle, I slacked through a lot of high school and I need to get more serious,” Chany says. “I could have done better.”
The tone is near-remorseful, and it’s an indication of how much purpose he currently feels for his life’s direction.
“I told him last year that he was going to get looks from colleges and so he had to keep his grades up,” says Onkar Hayre, the former John Oliver Jokers star and now a special education teacher at Gladstone who has helped ensure school’s gym doors remain open for extra practice. “I told him to be ready because his door was going to get knocked on, and sure enough, Capilano knocked.”
VISION FOR THE FUTURE
Chany’s mom Rita, who has often times worked two jobs to make ends meet, is his true hero.
“I think there’s no words for it,” he says when asked about the courageous journey she made 15 years ago, bringing both Michael and younger brother Dhol, now 16, to Canada. Michael’s family now also includes 14-year-old sister Changich and seven-year-old brother Anthony.
“I can’t ever pay her back,” he continues of his mom. “So I try to be a good guy. I help out at home, and sometimes, I sit down with her and I help her with her homework.”
Fleeing war-torn Sudan for Kenya where her two sons were born in Nairobi, then finding her way to North America, Rita is just now getting the chance to finish her high school studies through VCC.
“It’s amazing,” Chaney says of his mom. “I know a lot of people who haven’t finished high school and they have just left it. We’ve had a lot of babysitters because she’s had to work a whole lot of jobs.”
Chany admits that leaving the safe nest he’s found at Gladstone will be difficult, but the sport he discovered and the mentors who helped him embrace it have changed his life forever.
“I used to have anger management (issues) as a kid but through basketball, I learned to be a more patient person,” he says. “I understand now that everything is not going to go my way.”
Yet in retrospect, a lot of things have and that’s because with true vision, Michael Chany has discovered that nothing is impossible.
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