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New Fraser Valley Bandits' head coach Kyle Julius wants to grow basketball culture in B.C just as much as he wants to win

#Julius

On Thursday, Kyle Julius was named the new head coach and general manager of the Fraser Valley Bandits.

A native of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Julius has seen success as a head man in his short coaching career. His first head coaching gig was with the Mississauga Power of the NBL Canada - the franchise that has become the Raptors 905. He then moved on to the London Lightning, leading them to the 2016-17 championship. Julius was named Coach of the Year that season and the Lightning set the record for wins in a season, finishing 46-7.

Everything was clicking for Julius, but he wanted more. More experience, more challenges - and that was something Canada just couldn't provide. After winning a title at the pro level in Canada, there wasn't much left to prove and nowhere to elevate. It became clear that the only way to get better was to seek opportunities aboard. Some conversations he had would've placed him in Europe, but ultimately he settled for a job in Vietnam with the Saigon Heat.

"I never wanted to leave (Canada)," Julius told NBA.com. "We had a lot of success in the NBL Canada and this opportunity that I was given in Asia was not only exponentially better but it came with incredible experience for my family and for my kids to live in another country - and coach at a high level.

"All those things encompassed a good opportunity. At the time when you think about it, I didn't come up under the regular coaching system. I didn't do six or seven years as an assistant in the CIS or USports.

"I didn't do any of that stuff, I didn't do the G League route - assistant in the G League or anything like that.

"All I had was my NBL resume and what I knew but once I won in the NBL Canada, the only other option for me really was to go overseas."

Julius didn't have an extensive history as a coach before becoming one, but what he did have was extensive history as a skills development trainer.

After a pro career that saw him play in Italy's Lega Basket Serie A (LBA), which was the top division in the country at the time, Julius made his way back to Canada and founded A-Game Hoops - a company dedicated to skills and development.

More than 75 players that came through A-Game Hoops received scholarship opportunities to play post-secondary ball in Canada and the United States.

His relationships with players and coaches in Canada played a large role in Julius becoming so successful as a head coach in his early years. He was able to recruit high-level talent with the promise of getting better and winning while they were doing it.

Now with years of coaching experience under his belt, to go alongside an even bigger pool of players he's built relationships with over the years, Julius is ready to hit the ground running in the CEBL as not just the head coach, but the general manager as well.

"I've been doing that for the last five or six years," Julius said of recruiting players. "Beginning in Canada and then I had the chance to do it in Vietnam.

"Going to Fraser Valley with the opportunity to pick the team myself, based on the core values and based on my experiences over the last couple of years coaching, is really awesome. The reason I'm doing it is I get to build a culture here as well.

"I've been doing that in Vietnam, did it in London and now I get to do it in Fraser Valley. I'm kind of used to it at this point.

"I like being the underdog and I like taking a group of guys that's not supposed to win or an organization that's not supposed to win and try and find a way to win. To me, it's really rewarding."

The job Julius inherits may be a tough one from the outside looking in. The Bandits finished dead last in the CEBL last season with a 4-16 record. However, off the court, many would look at their season as a success. They were near the top of the league in attendance and sponsorship dollars.

Despite their record, the community embraced the team and that's something Julius doesn't take for granted.

"It kind of reminds me of London ... the London Lightning," Julius said. "On a Saturday night you'd have 7,500 people, 8,000 people at Bud Gardens and the community was really behind the team.

"I think that B.C. is different in the sense that it already has a good basketball culture - it always has. The high school scene is strong, even back when I was coming up, back when the provincial was the only team you could really play for in the summer before all the AAU stuff - B.C. would consistently win, they would beat Ontario here and there.

"To me, there's always been great players from out there. I think what the Bandits bring, it brings a bit of confirmation. I think it gives what's already there an enhanced look at the game.

"This basketball culture that's out there right now, now you're going to have 12 more pros in the area and you're going to be able to watch pros play. I think what the Bandits mean to Fraser Valley - every good basketball area should have a pro team, it's the pinnacle.

"You have your high school, you have your university, which is great out there - UBC is always great, Simon Fraser is a great program. Now you have a pro team, you have that hierarchy of basketball development and I think it's supposed to be like that and I think now their development there will be expedited even more with their young kids seeing pros play and learning from pros. I think it's pretty cool."

Julius told NBA.com he had other opportunities around the CEBL that could've made sense for him and his family, but what he appreciated about the Bandits was that they shared the same vision he did when it came to building the culture of the game.

Every practice that Julius runs with the team will be open to the public for those who are interested in coming out. Julius wants to not only continue the community feel the Bandits did such a great job of creating in their inaugural season, he wants to elevate it.

He'll ultimately get judged on wins and losses, but helping the next generation of basketball talent in B.C. is something both Julius and the organization are keen on influencing.

"I think it's everything. When you talk to young hockey players in Canada, what do they talk about? They talk about Hockey Night in Canada and how they would watch players and go out and replicate it or emulate those guys," Julius said. "Now in the last 15-20 years, you talk to young basketball players and they talk about Vince Carter.

"They talk about that era of the Raptors and how it really perpetuated their love for the game. I think Fraser Valley and the Bandits in that area will do the same thing.

"When I was growing up, there was no NBA to watch on TV - only once a week. But I grew up near a University and those guys were my Michael Jordans, they were my Isiah Thomas'. That's where I fell in love with the game. I looked up to those guys like they were legends, kings to me.

"I think it's one thing to watch the game on TV but it's another thing to go and hear the pros and see them. See how they work out, see how they warm up before the game as a young kid.

"I think it will really spark a ton of interest in young players out there. I really believe it."

The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.

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