Final chapter of an era as Ajay Sharma retires from Humber women’s basketball

Feb 13, 2024 | Headlines, Sports

Ajay Sharma could never have anticipated he would achieve the remarkable feat of becoming the most successful coach in Humber women’s basketball history when he took on the role in 2011.

And now, after 12 seasons, with six provincial and two national championships under his belt, Sharma has decided to put down his board and say goodbye. Those two national championships, marked by banners in the North campus gym, signify the only times an Ontario women’s college team won a national title.

The shocking announcement came earlier this year, just a few weeks before the end of the 2023-24 regular season.

Since then, Sharma said he has been trying to process the feelings and emotions as he looks back at his time with Humber.

“I’m trying to figure out if it’s the wins are important or the championships. They certainly are, those are the glue of, the memories that we all share,” he said.

“But it’s really about seeing where the players ended up in their lives, that’s probably the ultimate marker for if I’ve had any impact.”

Ceejay Nofuente, the number 1 all-time scorer for women’s basketball at Humber, was coached by Sharma and is now an assistant coach alongside him.

She said he was not only influential to her and her career but also to women’s basketball in Ontario.

“He has so much basketball knowledge with him and I was picking his brain ever since the day I met him as a player and now as a coach, I just get to experience how he sees the game,” she said.

“Being around him as a player and a coach, it’s the best of both worlds.”

Nofuente is not the only player Sharma has influenced into getting behind the bench.

Assistant coach Aleena Domingo was also his player who took a path to join his coaching staff.

Domingo said Sharma is more than a basketball coach. He is also a father figure.

“Girls coming in from high school, we’re not really the smartest I could say in my experience at that time, he moulds you into, being an adult and all these other qualities that you need as an adult,” she said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of girls said that he was like a father figure to them,” Domingo said.

She said she has built a special connection that goes beyond basketball.

“That’s my dawg, it’s my friend, it’s my coach, advisor, just a whole leap of things,” she said.

“It’s heartbreaking because he’s done so much for this program,” Domingo said. “He’s put personal things in his life, to the side, to prioritize the girls on the team, the coaching staff, and just this program in general.”

It doesn’t take long for a discussion about the pinnacle of achievement in Ontario women’s basketball to lead to Sharma. He has built an OCAA dynasty no other program can match.

Sharma with his family and players before his award ceremony held by the Humber athletics department on Feb 7.

Ajay Sharma with his family and players before his award ceremony held by the Humber athletics department on Feb. 7. Photo credit: Humber Hawks / Diego Guillen

Sharma said with all the years in coaching and the changes he has seen in the game, he’s still grounded.

“I don’t think coaching changed me it just kind of became a part of me. In fact, it’s probably rooted me even more,” he said. “I tell the girls a lot of time, be a boss, they are the boss. And they get that confidence from us.”

Hawks fourth-year point guard Kia Watt said things turned around for her when she started playing for Sharma.

“When I lost my passion for the game over the years, he’s helped me gain it back and stay confident in myself, stay confident in our team as a whole,” she said. “He’s influenced and helped every single person who’s ever been in contact with, in the basketball community at Humber.”

Sharma’s retirement hasn’t been easy on his current players and coaches.

Watt said there would be a piece missing in the Humber gym.

“I’m pretty sad that he’s leaving. He’s like a father to me. I look up to him a lot, and I appreciate everything he’s done for me,” she said.

“His presence and his trash jokes. He makes really bad jokes,” Watt said. “But I’m going to miss his humour and his energy.”

Although it’s an emotional goodbye, some are reminiscing on the good times they had with him.

Nofuente said she will never forget the 2016 national championship, the first they won together.

“He prepared us for that moment. I missed the game-tying layup, had to foul and then they ended up missing two free throws. I got the rebound. I thought I was gonna win us the game,” she said.

“We’re not losing this,” Nofuente said of the game. “I find my teammate open for a wide-open three and she hits it.”

Domingo said she believes Sharma is irreplaceable.

“This place will truly miss him and they’ll never have another” coach like him, she said. “I hope they will, but to have someone like him is damn near impossible.”