By Armen Zargarian
When David DeAveiro was hired as head coach of Toronto Metropolitan University’s (TMU) men’s basketball team in 2020, the role of his lead-assistant coach was sought after by many across the country.
DeAveiro heard from many who wanted the job but he already had someone in mind—Jeremie Kayeye. The two knew each other from Kayeye’s days at The Rise Centre (TRC) Academy in Brantford, Ont., where he was the director of athletics from 2016 to 2020. It was at TRC Academy where Kayeye and DeAveiro’s relationship began, after Kayeye recruited the TMU bench boss’ son, Darius.
Kayeye had sent DeAveiro a congratulatory text message and about a week later, he received a call from the TMU coach. A call that—after more than a decade of twists and turns throughout the coaching ranks—got him an opportunity with one of the top U Sports programs at TMU.
“There was no mention about whether he wanted to be an assistant or not,” recalls DeAveiro. “So, that’s when I go on to say ‘Look, I’ve heard from everyone else but you. If you’re interested in this job, I’m gonna hang up and you can call me back.’ He called me back and that’s how it went down.”
Kayeye’s rise to the U Sports ranks began in the early 2010s. He was so dedicated to chasing his hoop dream, he ended up leaving the corporate world behind and following a path he stumbled upon by chance.
“As long as I have enough to take care of my daughter…I don’t need any more”
He drove his little brother, Michael-Ange, to Amateur Athletic Union youth basketball practice with the Ajax Lions. In 2011, head coach Terence Phillips needed an extra hand and had previously seen Kayeye play basketball at Grassroots Canada, a student-athlete support organization, under longtime coach Ro Russell.
Kayeye stepped in to help and immediately impressed Phillips and assistant coach Francis Fridal. So much so, that they asked him to return to the following practices.
“It ended up being the next 14 years of my life,” says Kayeye.
The Lions had two teams—an ‘A’ and ‘B’ team—invited to a tournament hosted at a premiere youth rep program in Newmarket, Ont. two weeks later. Both teams were scheduled to play their first games at the same time but on different courts. Phillips tasked Kayeye with head coaching Team B for that game—throwing him right into the fire as a lead coach. Team B ended up winning by 20 points and Kayeye coached them for the remainder of the tournament and into the finals.
The Lions’ next tournament was in Detroit, MI, and upon their arrival, Kayeye learned that he’d be coaching Team B again. He ended up coaching the team to the finals of two tournaments in the span of weeks.
“He literally got thrown into coaching,” says Phillips. “And did a phenomenal job.”
But Phillips and Fridal weren’t fully convinced by Kayeye. They wanted to ensure that the 24-year-old’s character was equivalent to his on-court success. Later that season, the Lions had a tournament in Las Vegas, NV, and during one night of the trip, the pair took Kayeye out with them.
“Anyone looking for the future of coaching in Canada, they need to be looking at Jeremie”
When the trio returned to their hotel room, their key cards had demagnetized. Philips and Fridal went down to the lobby to retrieve the group’s new cards while Kayeye waited at the entrance to the room.
The pair took a very long time returning with their new keys and much to their surprise when they did, Kayeye was asleep on the floor of the hotel hallway.
Kayeye had been tired all night, but Phillips says he hadn’t shown a single sign of fatigue and was a perfect companion. To Phillips and Fridal, Kayeye’s will to keep up during the night out after a day on the court without complaining had proved that he was ready for the next step.
“We sat there that night and said, ‘You gotta start taking this seriously, because you’re going to be a coach for life,’” says Phillips.
Kayeye’s coaching career has taken him all over the place. He’s coached for Team Ontario as a head and assistant coach, at the Canadian National Training Centre doing skill development with players in the national system, at the high school level in the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association (OBSA), for two Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) teams and even in China with the Mississauga Power’s development program.
He also spent time in the Raptors 905 organization, working as the “everything guy,” carrying out roles like video coordinating, driving people to practice and other front office tasks.
Kayeye attributes his route to coaching success back to the summer of 2013.
In June of that year, Kayeye reached out to Tim Chung, the executive assistant of the MegaCity Pro-Am tournament, a competitive adult league in Toronto, to see how he could get involved. Chung invited Kayeye to the tournament, where he met John Wiggins, the vice president of operations for the Oshawa Power of the National Basketball League (NBL), who had a partnership with MegaCity.
Wiggins welcomed the hard work Kayeye was willing to put in, which included tasks like sweeping floors and filling Gatorade containers. That same 2013 summer, Wiggins propelled the Power to relocate to Mississauga.
Now the Mississauga Power, the organization offered Kayeye a job with the outreach team. Then, he parlayed that position into a game operations job.
“A lot of people see the flash, the glamor and the glitz. At that point we were all grinding,” says Wiggins. “Jeremie showed early on he was committed to a long-term project, a long-term vision.”
But not everyone was so enthusiastic about the move.
Leaving a corporate job to pursue a career in hoops was met with skepticism from some of Kayeye’s family members. They couldn’t believe he would make the move to coaching and others questioned what a basketball coach in Canada could really make. His parents however, were all in on the move and without them, Kayeye says he wouldn’t be where he is today.
“As long as I have enough to take care of my daughter…I don’t need any more,” recalled Kayeye, thinking back to 2013.
Scorekeeping was one of Kayeye’s many responsibilities with the Power. While keeping the official scores, he started simultaneously writing down the plays that opposing teams were running, sharing the notes with coaches and executives after games.
He caught their attention, so with free agency and the draft coming up, the Power asked Kayeye to bring a list of 10 noteworthy players to members of the front office. Instead, he brought a list of 50 noteworthy names.
“His capacity for learning is unrivaled by a lot of people,” says Wiggins.
Since getting his first taste of U Sports action during the 2021-22 season, DeAveiro sees his lead-assistant coach as someone who could take over the reins one day. That’s if, as DeAveiro says, nobody comes along and offers Kayeye a head coaching position first.
“Unless somebody comes along earlier and offers him the job…I can see the TMU job being his.”
DeAveiro says there’s no doubt Kayeye will one day be a head coach. He mentioned U Sports, the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association or even the U.S., as possible avenues for a leading bench boss role. DeAveiro says until that time comes, he is trying to guide Kayeye and support him as much as he can.
Kayeye’s mission has gone beyond making an impact on the sidelines.
He heard about and joined the Black Canadian Coaches Association (BCCA) in 2020. Among the BCCA’s objectives is to “lobby for the hiring of more visible minorities in leadership and executive positions.”
Kayeye wants to work toward equal opportunities for Black coaches, who have historically been asked to overcome the odds with losing teams.
“How much time do they get to turn [the program] around?” posed Wiggins, who is now the Toronto Raptors’ vice president of organizational culture and inclusion.
“He literally got thrown into coaching. And did a phenomenal job”
Kayeye feels lucky to be alongside other Black coworkers at TMU like strength and conditioning specialist Patrick Williams and athletic therapist Shueb Ahmed. Recent success stories of Black head coaches in Ontario, like two former TMU coaches Patrick Tatham and Charles Kissi, have helped to puncture the perception of who can be a leader in sports.
Tatham is now in his sixth season as head coach of the McMaster Marauders and Kissi, after transforming the Brock Badgers from a four-win team to a 21-win team in his final year with them, has acted as an assistant coach for the Raptors 905.
Wiggins believes Kayeye’s ability to connect with the youth should have him next in line to lead a U Sports program.
“Anyone looking for the future of coaching in Canada, they need to be looking at Jeremie.”