“Jobs of the Future” is a series focusing on career paths, local job opportunities, programs, and tales of success that highlight North Bay's diverse job market.
It has been a long wait for Stephen Hong but the opportunity to coach a game for the Canadore Panthers men's basketball team is approaching.
Hong was named the teams new head coach in May of 2020 but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, his first season at the helm was cancelled and the effects of restrictions have lingered for sports teams at every level
“Right now I’m happy that we have been able to get into our gym, that’s a huge plus,” says Hong.
“The biggest obstacle really has been with Covid preventing us from seeing and scouting players because nobody is really playing at the moment. You mostly do your recruiting through word of mouth or you’re getting other coaches and players connecting with you as well and so that has really been helpful.
Born and raised in North Bay, Hong graduated from West Ferris Secondary School in 2005. He played two years of junior and three years of senior and says he was “grateful to win five city championships.”
“I honestly was lucky to just be a part of some very successful programs.”
Hong started playing at Silver Birches.
“We had just finished our volleyball season at Silver Birches and I had some friends and some teachers saying that I should try out for basketball, “he says.
“The one thing that really sold me on it at the time was that we were going to be missing school for tournaments every so often and I thought ‘all right might as well try out for another sport’ so I did and I got on to the team.”
Hong says he wasn’t great at first but he loved the sport immediately and so he put in the effort to improve.
“Being in grade seven you had to bite the bullet and pay your dues and put in the hard work and get some extra reps during practice or in the mornings or play in the city league games that go on during the spring,” he says as he continued to play once he got to high school.
“I played guard and I was more of a role player. I wasn’t one of those five-star basketball players. I got to play with a lot of guys that actually went on to play at their post-secondary schools and so getting to learn from them and getting to test myself and getting better every day in practices was something I enjoyed doing.”
Hong says he took everything as a learning experience.
“It was really about learning to play great defence and doing whatever I was asked to do to win basketball games.”
Hong says the thought of becoming a coach was something he started thinking of before he even graduated high school.
“I had some great coaches like Larry Tougas, Greg Barnes and Doyle Anthony,” says Hong.
“I got a sense that it was something that was going to happen because I wanted to be a teacher and teaching and coaching kind of go hand in hand. I also had the opportunity to coach house league and that really helped in getting my feet wet, not just in the coaching aspect but in helping out younger athletes and I saw it as a way to give back to my community.”
In addition, Hong has coached at both the high school and club level in North Bay with the Spartans and at Widdifield and West Ferris, as well as getting recognition to helm the north region team at the Ontario Summer Games.
But what has really prepared Hong for this role is the last seven years as an assistant coach with the Nipissing Lakers Men’s Basketball team.
“We had some successful season in that tenure including making the OUA playoffs and winning an OUA playoff game. It’s a huge achievement for a smaller school and for a young program,” he says.
“When I heard that the position (at Canadore) was available, I was a little hesitant at first. I really enjoyed being at Nipissing in my roles under (former Head Coach) Chris Cheng and (Current Head Coach) Thomas Cory.”
Hong says it was other people reaching out and suggesting that he would be a great fit that caught his attention.
“These were good friends of mine both inside and outside of basketball and so that helped motivate me and encouraged me to apply for the position.”
“I think it gives you a lot of confidence to hear people say those things but it also means you have people that are going to support you and that really gave me a push. Those people helped me weigh out the options and look at the pros and cons and honestly I couldn’t think of a better way to continue coaching the sport I love and taking that next step and doing it at the next level.”
One of the first things Hong had to do was put together his support staff which he says is crucial for the whole program to work, especially when it comes to recruiting players.
“At the moment it’s a major role for me to do recruiting but now having assistant coaches and other people supporting the program, I know they will reach out anytime they see a student-athlete that might be interested in joining our program or someone that might be a good fit for Canadore College,” says Hong.
“It’s a learning process and I have to adjust from looking at OUA players the last seven years to OCAA players now and it’s a big step to do that.”
Being a student-athlete himself, Hong understands the importance of connecting to his players.
“Really it’s about connecting with the players right now and not just seeing them as a basketball player but seeing them as a student and an individual as well,” he says.
“We want to talk to them and build those relationships and not just focus on basketball-orientated results, we want to make sure that they are taking care of their academics and figuring out their next steps after college or graduating.”
While the season won’t start until the second semester, Hong says there is a lot of work to be done in that time.
“That will leave me some time to work with the team and get them a lot of reps, a lot of shots, a lot of work done on skills and I think these three months to prepare are going to go by really fast as we get ready for those first sets of games,” he says.
“I couldn’t think of a better opportunity to represent your city and your community at the OCAA level and so I just thought that it was a great opportunity for myself and I’m very grateful that I got the position.”
If you have a story idea for the Jobs of the Future series, send Matt an email at [email protected]