Luka Kojima St-Laurent was on the sidelines of the AAA B.C. boys basketball championship, deeply concentrating on his game. He had to move fast. Tip-off was minutes away. He needed to step into position but not before preparing his tools for the upcoming rotation.
At the long media table packed with reporters, scouts and statisticians, Kojima St-Laurent grabbed his gear: a tripod, Canon and Nikon cameras and a charged battery.
The Grade 12 student at King George secondary isn't a basketball player. He's a videographer and editor - and is increasingly popular and respected for his work. This year and last, he closely followed the senior boys season, industriously filming every game he attended.
When Kitsilano's Noah de Rappard sunk a 65-foot shot from beyond the half-court line right at the buzzer, Kojima St-Laurent had the footage on YouTube in 24 hours.
He chronicled the King George Dragons' 2011-12 season, attending close to 40 games. This year he repeated the feat and in February travelled with the Dragons to Kamloops for the AA championships.
Capturing the footage is only the beginning. Kojima St-Laurent, who named his young company KSTL Productions, is making a name for himself in B.C. basketball circles for what he does with the footage he captures. The games and highlight reels on his YouTube channel have nearly 34,000 total views.
It started last year with a mixtape of George Mija.
A mixtape is a series of quick clips that capture a baller's best moments: a massive dunk or devastating cross-over that freezes a defender, creative ball-handling and impressive hang time. All mixtapes are put to music, the kind of aggressive urban beats that get the head bumping and the heart pumping.
Mixtapes started as a showcase for streetball, as an alternative to the sportscast footage of the more sanitized, predictable professional game. Today, they're a recognized genre used to promote future talent and hype an individual like Toronto's Andrew Wiggins. The Bleacher Report has a top 10 list of the best mixtapes of 2012.
Today's video cameras fit into the palms of hands, online broadcasting channels like YouTube and Vimeo reach thousands of viewers and social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr make distribution free and effortless. All this means today's high schoolers can have their own highlight reel. Kojima St-Laurent and St. George's Cedric Payne are two Vancouverites breaking into the business.
When Kojima St-Laurent put together a mixtape for King George's Mija, it was for fun. Now he gets requests from players, clubs and schools offering to pay for his services. He is currently working on at least 15 tapes for players around the Lower Mainland and about 20 more game highlights from the two senior boys championship tournaments.
"I wanted to make the video personal to the player," said Kojima St-Laurent. He shoots from the sidelines, not the stands, and gets close up on a player when he's handling the ball. He films candid shots to help tell a story about the athlete.
"The best content is the close ups and the emotion that you catch amongst the team," he said. "It gives them a cinematic feel. It's like a short film, they find it exiting, fun to watch. The best content is the close-ups and the emotion that you catch amongst the team. I love doing this for the kids and getting them their exposure and getting everyone to see them in a different way.
Kojima St-Laurent had seen the high school and college mixtapes posted on U.S. sites like ballislife.com and hoopmixtape.com. He knew the value they would have to B.C. basketball fans.
"Instead of coaches going to a game to see them and fans that can't come to a game, they can watch the highlights and see what happens," he said.
Because the game footage was a useful coaching tool and Kojima St-Laurent a constant support to the team, King George head coach Darko Kulic made him an assistant coach.
"The tapes do an amazing job with getting kids, for example, from the Island to see the talent that there is in the Valley and Lower Mainland," said Kulic. "Before, usually it would be by word of mouth, but now with these tapes being all over [basketball forum] Hooplife, Facebook and YouTube, it's easier for people throughout the province to view and enjoy games from different regions."
A graduating senior, Mija aspires to play post-secondary basketball next year. He was already getting looks, but his mixtapes helped draw even more attention. Kojima St-Laurent also makes the kind of tape a recruiter wants to see: uninterrupted game footage to show the complete player, not just his Showtime sparkle.
"So far every coach I've talked to has told me about how they've seen my mixtape so it's really helped get my name out there," said Mija, noting his King George classmate's commitment and talent. "He gives up sleep to help others with their goals. He puts in 150 per cent into his work and he doesn't fail to impress. In my opinion, the quality of his mixtapes are on top in this business."
Sunny Ahluwalia is a West Coast correspondent for North Pole Hoops, a Canadian scouting service dedicated to basketball. He said a coach's attention will be drawn to the entertainment value of a mixtape, but he will still need to see more of a player to determine his capabilities and potential.
"It's a good baseline to have on a kid so you can see there are things you can pick out," said Ahluwalia. "I love them as much as anyone - you get all the loud moments in one package - but in terms of a coach or a scout making a full decision on a kid, based on a mixtape, that likely will never happen."
Ahluwalia remembers the original mixtape, which was released on VHS in 1998 by the shoe company AND1. Simply titled Mixtape Volume 1, it "changed the basketball landscape forever," according to U.S. basketball magazine Dime.
"It was fun, especially in that time," said Ahluwalia. "It was grainy footage that you'd never seen before. Maybe you got a tape with the purchase of a shoe."
A decade later, AND1 had released 10 volumes and the market has since filled with amateur and semi-professional mixes.
Ahluwalia is a dedicated basketball analyst and spends hours observing the abilities, skills and potential of up-and-coming athletes. He admires talent wherever he sees it, on the court or on the sidelines with a video camera, "just like the kids who play," he said. "They have a passion for basketball, they channel it in a different way."