From a Backyard Basketball Court to an International Business

Friday, May 26, 2017

Mano teaching basketball

Featuring Alumni Relations, featuring Mano Watsa (BA '99)

Waterloo Warrior, Mano Watsa (BA ’99) is the Owner and President of PGC Basketball - the largest educational basketball program in the world! It all started with a backyard basketball camp he created at the age of 15 and expanded during his time at the University of Waterloo.

Alumni Relations had a chance to catch up with Mano and ask him about his success.

What gave you the idea to start a basketball camp in your backyard and why were the camps so successful?

I got the idea while I was at a breakfast with some family friends. We were discussing their daughter’s swimming lessons that she offered at local pools in our community. It got me thinking, if she could teach kids how to swim in backyards, maybe I could do the same with basketball in my parent’s backyard. We already had a basketball court, I was assisting with a grades 5-6 boys’ basketball team, and there were lots of kids that used to come over and play at my house, so I thought they’d be keen on attending.

The first summer we had two camps: one with eight kids and one with nine kids. The next summer I offered four weeks of camps and we had over 20 kids per week. By the time I began my undergrad at the University of Waterloo the camps were up to 35-40 kids per week.

During my first year at UWaterloo, I had the idea of generating sponsors to help build the credibility of the camp. I approached all the shoe companies and basketball companies and was fortunate enough to bring aboard Converse, Wilson and Gatorade as sponsors for the camp. Not only did that help with credibility for the camp, but it increased my desire to grow the camp and pursue other opportunities for the camps.

By the time I graduated from the University of Waterloo the camps were up to 80-100 kids per week, and I realized that I wanted to continue on with the camps.

Mano with players

I think the camps were successful for three reasons:

  1. I focused on making the camps a lot of fun - I had gone to a lot of basketball camps myself so I knew the things that needed to be incorporated into the camps to ensure that the kids had a great time.
  1. I made sure the kids finished the week feeling like they had improved - learning and teaching the players how to play was an integral part of the camps.
  1. I deliberately connected with each individual camper- learning their names and ensuring that I made a connection and built a relationship with everyone.

How did you transition from running a backyard basketball camp to becoming President of PGC Basketball - the largest educational basketball program in the world?

I was the first Canadian athlete to attend Point Guard College (PGC) the summer before my final year of high school and I learned how to be a leader, how to think the game, and how to create a championship culture. As I was also running the basketball camps in my backyard, I was able to immediately apply and teach the concepts that I learned. I continued to stay in touch with PGC founder Dick DeVenzio until his sudden passing in 2001 and in tribute to the impact Dick had on my life, I decided to start a camp for point guards in Canada called Point Guard Academy (PGA). A woman named Dena Evans who was a University of Virginia standout player continued the Point Guard College while I grew the Point Guard Academy into a nationally recognized program in Canada. A few years later, we met and decided that we could have a far bigger impact on the game if we joined forces and worked together. In 2007, we merged PGA with PGC and I took on the role of president of PGC Basketball and we set our sights on the vision of impacting tens of thousands of players and coaches.

Mano high-fiving a player

You were quite the basketball standout during your time at the University of Waterloo. Not only did you lead the Warriors to victory against the nation's top-ranked squads but you were also a great coach. How did your experience at UWaterloo impact your career? 

Having success as a basketball player at the University of Waterloo gave me the confidence necessary to believe that I could turn my backyard basketball camps into a full-time career. While at the University of Waterloo, I also had the opportunity to represent the athletic department in their Team Up program for schools, which gave varsity athletes the opportunity to speak to students about the keys to success in life.

Upon graduating, I launched the Power to Choose program and over the next 10 years spoke to over 250,000 students at over 400 schools across Canada. The Power to Choose program gave me the opportunity to promote our camps at local schools, which helped with the growth of the camps. The Power to Choose program also gave me a second business venture to focus on over the course of the school year. Between the Team Up program and everyone I met through my basketball career at Waterloo, I developed a lot of relationships which opened doors of opportunity for both public speaking and the camps. Studying recreation and leisure business studies at UWaterloo proved to be the ideal training ground for me to be able to launch my business upon graduation. My recreation and leisure degree and everything my professors Ron McCarville and Mark Havitz taught me about business and marketing allowed me to launch my business with confidence.

UWaterloo is hosting one of PGC’s camps from June 26-30th! For further details click here.