It’s the middle of August in Toronto. School has been out for just about all kids since the beginning of July but the lessons have been happening in George Harvey Collegiate’s north end gym every Monday to Friday all summer long. That’s where the city’s preeminent basketball trainer, Vlad Matevski, has been holding court.
Everyday, while most kids are knee-deep in summer activities, there have been training sessions going on under Matevski’s watchful eye. A teacher himself at a Toronto high school, he should also be enjoying his summer off but instead his passion has become a full time commitment for two months. On a given day you could see current Dallas Mavericks’ player Dwight Powell or Minnesota Timberwolves’ Andrew Wiggins, or any of a host of other top tier area ballers, walking in to go through drills after a group of grade school players are finishing up their own. The gym is never empty as long as Vlad is in there.
Matevski has been helping players get better since 2005 when he was coaching a Toronto rep team called Toronto Five-O. He would eventually leave coaching the team to focus on training in 2010 setting up his program, Real Basketball Training. Slowly he has become the guy top players and any aspiring hoopers are looking to work with. It’s now at the point where he’s not even able to answer all the requests he has through his website. At the moment he’s been relying mostly on word of mouth, much like he did when he started his basketball training, when accepting potential new clients.
“You need to know the players, get to know them as people before anything,” says Matevski. “[After that] make sure they buy into what you’re trying to help them with.”
Once they’re in the door the work begins.
When Matevski talks about how he prepares a program for a player his business education background kicks in. Teaching business classes at Marc Garneau Collegiate he approaches every player with a SWOT analysis. For him, every program is different and individualized for the player.
“You have to see who you’re training, what their needs are, their strengths and weaknesses and where the opportunities are for (them to) get better,” says Matevski. “You need to look at the things you can analyze, look at them as a player and pick things to work through.”
Matevski will research his players, even before they begin working with him, to further help him in setting up what he needs to help them get results. He even continues to watch film on the players he is currently training now. It’s safe to say that when it comes to helping get his players reach their peak level he’s one hundred percent committed. With his personal commitment to improving a player that high he demands the same level of commitment from his player.
Cutting a stocky frame and an intense look about him, Matevski looks every bit the player he used to be when he was younger, plus a few silvers in his hair. Before immigrating to Canada he had played professionally on European basketball clubs since he was 16, which is where he forged his deep sense of commitment to the game. He played for the Ryerson University Rams from 2001-2005 and during his time did well enough in the class to earn academic All-Canadian honors. His experiences have shown what a deep commitment to a goal could yield and if you’re expecting to work with Matevski he expects the player to put in the effort.
“I will only work with a certain amount of players that are dedicated,” he says. “There’s nothing magical here. If they work and work through the right things consistently they’ll get results. I hold them accountable. If I see the same stuff over and over, they don’t do anything on their own and they’re not getting any better then we’re wasting time and money.”
Basketball has been on a big upswing in popularity in the last decade and kids now have much more access to it, more than ever. The recent NBA championship won by Canada’s own Toronto Raptors has further propelled the game in a country that has been slow to accepting the shift from other major sports like hockey and baseball. In that same period there seemed to be an influx of everything basketball trainers included. Matevski is acutely aware of the growing market for trainers and has steadfast kept to his own rule of limiting the number of players he trains and never demanding anything of family for the sake of making a buck.
“I’m not the kind of guy who’ll tell a kid how many times they needs to be here. I’ll tell parents, and they ask all the time, how many times do you want us to come,” Matevski says. “I can never ask you to come see me if I’m going to charge you money. It’s like I’m inviting you to dinner and then I’m going to make you pay. I’ll say look at your budget, look at the goals for the kid and then (I’ll tell them to) talk as a family and decide. They have to be realistic. I assess the kid, I’ll see what they have and I give them my honest opinion. They take that information and they come up with their plan.”
Being in the position where he has full-time time employment allows Matevski to really pick and choose whom he wants to work with. He’s allowed the freedom to really be selective with whom he spends his time with and be really invested in improving that player over time. This also allows him to cut a player if the commitment isn’t there.
Seeing the kids he works with improve, and they’re all still kids to him even if they’re in the NBA, has been all he’s wanted to see. He’s been around since many of his more successful players were in high school so he’s been a witness to the work they put in. When asked about if he can pin any proud moments he says whenever he sees guys on TV that he’s trained is a proud moment, but it’s not limited to that.
“Every player I train and their progression in their careers are proud moments,” says Matevski. “At the end of the day you train players and you hopefully help them reach their goals. That being said I’ve had many proud moments.”
As long as there’s a ball and a willing set of players looking to improve there will be many more proud moments for him.