By Melissa Novacaska
Watching a player rise from under his instruction to the NBA is a rare feat, yet one that Ottawa coach Matthew Koeslag has now achieved, with the added bonus of a front row seat.
The St. Patrick’s High School basketball coach just returned from Las Vegas, where he was watching Ottawa’s own Marial Shayok get one of his first experiences in the world’s top basketball league at the NBA’s Summer League.
Shayok was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers with the 54th overall pick in June’s NBA draft. He was one of a record-breaking six Canadian draftees and the first player from Ottawa to ever be selected by an NBA team in the draft.
Shayok performed well in Vegas, averaging more than 14 points in just over 20 minutes per game, while also shooting the ball at a 46 per cent rate.
“I’ve been saying for years that when he gets to play here, he’ll have no problem and he really didn’t have much problem,” said Koeslag, who still trains with Shayok when he’s in town.
The coach said the way his former pupil played in Vegas “justifies” what he already knows the shooting guard is capable of.
Koeslag was part of a party of Shayok’s family, friends and past coaches in Ottawa on the night of the draft, where he described his own reaction as being “a little bit more at peace” than most of the 70 or so people in attendance.
In a video that Shayok’s brother, Shayok Shayok, posted on Twitter on the night of the draft, the 23-year-old is seen embracing with friends and family after his name is called by the 76ers.
“Let’s do it baby, you’re going to Philly,” one voice can be heard saying excitedly.
“You did it bro,” another says.
Others are heard screaming with excitement.
Pure joy. Here’s the moment Ottawa’s Marial Shayok found out he’d been drafted to the NBA with The Philadelphia 76s. (video courtesy his big brother Shayok Shayok) pic.twitter.com/eFWaDsp7xH
— Robyn Bresnahan (@RobynBresnahan) June 21, 2019
“It was cool to have everybody here, I think [Marial] really enjoyed that,” his brother, who is also his manager, told the Ottawa Sportspage.
He also said it was a “major achievement” for Shayok to become the first local player to be drafted into the NBA.
Yar Shayok, Marial’s older sister, said hearing her brother’s name called in the draft was a “surreal moment” and one that was a “sigh of relief” for how hard her brother has worked so far in his career.
“[His] dream has now become a reality,” Yar said.
As a group, the Shayoks make up a tightknit basketball family. Father Makur, sister Yar and brother Shayok each played NCAA Division I basketball.
As a youngster, Shayok started playing basketball routinely at the cage court near Walkley and Russell, which his brother referred to as his “old stomping grounds.” The courts at St. Luke’s were another popular spot to find the young Shayok, prior to his years at St. Pat’s.
Koeslag said Shayok’s upbringing has allowed him to experience his success humbly, and with “discipline” and “humility.”
“That environment is paramount to his own development and all the kind of exposure he’s had to the game,” Koeslag said.
Shayok left Ottawa in high school to attend Blair Academy in New Jersey, as a necessary step to get to the point he’s at today. While he played college ball at the University of Virginia and at Iowa State, his brother says Shayok is set on keeping to his Ottawa roots.
“[Marial] definitely wants to be involved in the local scene, and I think he wants to also be able to give back to players coming up, to show them that if you want something, it is totally possible,” Koeslag said.
With family being a “refuge” for Shayok, Koeslag said coming back home is also a bit of a break for him both mentally and physically. Both siblings and coach agree that Shayok is very much a “homebody.”
“I think Ottawa is in every sense of the word home for him and it’s not just a place to go to, it’s where he wants to be,” Koeslag said.
“He’s going to be coming back to Ottawa for the rest of his life. He loves Ottawa, he’s from here, he’s an Ottawa kid, he makes it clear that yes he’s from Canada, but he represents Ottawa,” his brother said.
Yar said that Shayok knows he can have an impact locally and says he wants to “ensure” he keeps his connection to the nation’s capital.
“Just [Shayok] being in the city to say ‘I’m here, I’ve made it, but I’m not going anywhere’ is super important,” Yar said.
An earlier version of this story attributed one statement to Shayok Shayok when it was actually Yar Shayok who made the comment. This has been corrected.