Humber’s James DePoe makes a living among college players, NBA stars

Jun 14, 2024 | Headlines, Sports

The office of James DePoe, the manager of Humber Athletic facilities, features pictures of Humber champion teams with longtime Hawks legends like Ceejay Nofuente and coach Ajay Sharma.

There are also photos of DePoe with Canadian NBA idols, like two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash.

DePoe was moving a basketball between his hands like someone who might turn a world globe, pointing out the places the sport has taken him.

“Maybe between 20 and 25 different countries,” he said.

Like the earth, the basketball never stops turning for DePoe as he never takes some time away from the hoops, between his work as facilities manager at Humber and his role as Canada’s team manager in the summer.

He goes from travelling inside Ontario in the winter to travelling around the world in the summer, from sitting in quiet courts with barely dozens of people to sitting in arenas with raucous crowds with thousands of passionate fans.

DePoe never takes any long time off between his job at Humber and his work with Canada Basketball.

DePoe never takes any long time off between his job at Humber and his work with Canada Basketball. Photo credit: Antoni Canyameras Rojas

DePoe moves among college players and with NBA stars like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jamal Murray and Dillon Brooks.

“When I take my vacation for Humber I work for Canada Basketball. I never take a vacation, just every once in a while,” said DePoe, who was part of the men’s Canadian team that won the historic bronze medal in the last FIBA World Cup hosted in the Philippines, Indonesia and Japan.

“But my time with Canada is very rewarding,” he said. “I’ve been able to learn so many things that I can bring back to our department here.

“Yes, working with NBA players is different from working with college players,” DePoe said. “There are some differences like the focus and the preparation, but at the end of the day, both of them are human beings.”

Switching roles in such different environments has become a lifelong routine for DePoe, who has worked for Humber and Canada Basketball since 2010, not just with the senior team, but also with young teams.

DePoe had to roll his eyes upward to recall everything that had happened since 2010 but he was able to bring many memories back.

He also remembered everything started with Canada Basketball. It was a fluke, just one of those flukes that determines destiny.

“In 2010, I was studying for the Recreation and Leisure Services diploma at Humber. I was volunteering in the training camp of the B team, which was to play exhibition games in Europe,” he said. “There were young players like Kelly Olynyk, we needed to start to build the talent pool of Canada.

“The team manager who was supposed to travel worked for the Raptors, but the NBA went on strike and he wasn’t allowed to go anywhere, and two days before the trip they asked me ‘Can you go?'” DePoe said.

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During his time in Humber, DePoe has become a handyman by going through different experiences that have provided him with versatility, a valuable understanding of distinct functions and preparation to work in a high-level performance environment like Canada Basketball.

He is the manager who runs the college’s athletic facilities now but he has held other roles in the past as he organized tournaments and events and was the varsity coordinator.

DePoe also was assistant coach of the Humber men’s basketball team that was crowned national champion in 2015, gaining an in-depth knowledge of the game that helps when it comes to working with elite-level coaches.

During his time as a team manager of the Canadian senior national team, DePoe has been part of the staff of head coaches including the current world champion Gordon Herbert of Germany, and NBA champions with the then-Raptors’ Nick Nurse, now in charge of the Philadelphia 76ers.

DePoe brings back to Humber what he learns with the Canadian national team.

DePoe brings back to Humber what he learns with the Canadian national team. Photo credit: Antoni Canyameras Rojas

Jordi Fernandez, another coach with NBA pedigree, will be at the helm this summer again after leading Canada to its first medal in history at the 2023 World Cup. The Spaniard has just been hired as a head coach of the Brooklyn Nets.

DePoe said knowing the particular demands of each coach is key in his job.

“You have to do whatever the coach wants to do,” he said. “You have to build a relationship with that person and you start to receive some feedback about how we move, what time we should be on the bus, when we should eat, when we practice,” he said.

“I do equipment management, all the accessories and shoes, making sure we have everything, and all the equipment, all the bags are packed properly, moving them from place to place,” DePoe said.

The manager of Humber Athletics facilities said his role with youth teams is different.

“With the U17, U18 or U19 teams, it’s different. The groups are smaller and they are easier to move, it’s different from grown men professionals,” he said.

“You have to teach them how to carry themselves, remind them the right time to go to sleep, especially in Europe with five hours ahead. They want to talk to their friends here but you have to tell them to put the phones away, things like that,” DePoe said.

Canada is an NBA star-studded team featuring names like RJ Barrett, Luguentz Dort, Nickeil-Alexander Walker and the much-expected draft prospect Zach Edey besides Murray, Gilgeous-Alexander or Brooks.

However, DePoe, who has known some of them for very long, touched on the human essence of the group beyond the superficial characters that social media builds out of NBA players.

“They are human, they get a lot of attention and it’s one thing you try to be mindful about. Despite all, they are still human,” he said.

“They have a million followers on Instagram, a lot of money, but they are the same kind of person. When they come with Team Canada it is refreshing for them because some grew up together,” DePoe said.

“When you deal with NBA players you just have to be mindful they have a lot of going on, a lot of pressure, dealing with different things, you have to make sure they have a good experience, that they feel supported,” he said.

Although everybody deals with a lot of pressure, Brooks, in the role of malicious villain attributed to him, is one of the most scrutinized stars.

“He is an incredible person,” DePoe said.

“He cares about his family, friends and teams. He is such a lovely person, a great guy. How he plays is what he puts into the game, but he is different off the court,” he said.

Besides his role, DePoe also carries responsibility for maintaining good chemistry in the locker room.

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“I asked the players about how they are, and their families, the same as I do with the Humber players. We have to make the positivity remain,” he said.

“Between 2013 and 2017 with the youth teams I already was with some of the guys who are in their 20s, that helps in the relationships with them, if they need to talk about something. We have gone through a lot together,” DePoe said.

He recalls his nice story with the Ejim brothers. The oldest, Melvin, plays for Unicaja in the top Spanish league and for Canada and two of his younger brothers, Ryan and Kenny competed with Humber.

“It’s tough to say who has impressed me the most as a human being. Melvin is one of the most wonderful guys, Ryan played for Humber and went to Carlton and Kennedy also played for Humber. He passed away from a heart condition and his jersey is in my office,” he said.

Despite the good memories and experiences with Canada when the manager of the Humber Athletic facilities looks into the past, he knows deep down the best might be yet to come.

He counts the days left for the next journey, set to begin in Toronto with the training camp of the national team on June 27 and with Paris as a final destination.

In the City of Light, the dawn of Canadian basketball is expected to keep getting brighter at the Olympics with the dazzling duo of stars that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will make up with Jamal Murray.

Canada will be in the spotlight as one of the frontrunners for the gold as the other NBA powerhouse and one of the very few teams that can overshadow the hall-of-famers-packed cast of the U.S. with LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.

The Canadians clinched his first and lone Olympic medal with a silver in the 1936 Olympics. The 2024 edition runs from July 26 to Aug. 11.

“As a group, we are collectively very focused, we have enough humility, we are putting on hard work and we have enough talent, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t believe we can’t be at the gold medal game,” DePoe said.

“I think we can match up with anybody in the world, we had some success in the World Cup and we learned from that,” he said.

DePoe was part of the coaching staff that led Canada to win the bronze medal in the 2023 FIBA World Cup.

DePoe was part of the coaching staff that led Canada to win the bronze medal in the 2023 FIBA World Cup. Photo credit: Antoni Canyameras Rojas

While looking at his picture with Steve Nash, DePoe told a behind-the-scenes fact about Gilgeous-Alexander that might put the Canada leader at the same level as the former point guard.

“If we practice at 11, Shai is already at the gym at 7 a.m. In the training camp in 2011, we went to Europe and Steve Nash was 37. I’ve never seen anybody working out like this in my life, the skills and the drills, I said, ‘Wow.’ I see that now in Shai, how Shai trains, how he focuses and how he works, it’s special seeing somebody doing that,” DePoe said.

He can now start to point at Paris in that world globe that is his basketball.

With the bronze of the World Cup framed in his fully decorated office, he might make more room on one of the walls after Paris.

“We want more,” DePoe said.