“I’m a master skills developer”: Meet the Brampton coach behind NBA stars like RJ Barrett and Lindell Wigginton

Elite trainer Dwayne Washington runs his club, Uplay, out of a local gym. He’s mentored more than a quarter of the Canadian basketball players drafted since 2018

By Carly Penrose| Photography by Lucy Lu
“I’m a master skills developer”: Meet the Brampton coach behind NBA stars like RJ Barrett and Lindell Wigginton
Dwayne Washington, founder of Uplay Canada at their practice court in Brampton, Ontario. Wednesday, June 28, 2023.

When asked to name the who’s who of Canadian NBA talent, fans may mention RJ Barrett, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lindell Wigginton or Shaedon Sharpe. Behind every player on that list is an elite coach who’s been flying under the radar at his unassuming Brampton gym: Dwayne Washington. Since 2018, more than a quarter of all Canadian players drafted to the NBA have been alumni of Washington’s Uplay program, a private club focused on developing young athletes through basketball and academics. We asked Washington about his coaching philosophy, why Canada is churning out so much NBA star power and what his former students were like as kids.

Congratulations are in order—two Uplay alumni, Leonard Miller and Charles Bediako, got drafted to the NBA last week. How does it feel? Good! I’m like a proud uncle who has helped his nephews graduate from university. I’m happy to be part of the process, and now they start a new chapter.

Let’s go back to the beginning. How did you get into basketball? I grew up in New York and played in high school. I went to play at a private prep school upstate and then got a full scholarship to Houghton College, which was then a Division 2 school. I got a double major in psychology and education, then a master’s degree. I moved to Canada in 2004 to pursue a doctorate in education at the University of Toronto. That’s when I started training kids.

What drew you to coaching? I’m from the Bronx, where there are a lot of athletes at different stages in their lives. So it didn’t feel like a major deal to become a coach. It’s just a job choice, like doctor or dentist. I love working with kids and I can teach, which is why I started the Uplay program.

So what is Uplay, exactly? We’re a private basketball club for players in grades seven through 12. We have teams that we train and work with as coaches—for example, we have a team in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League. I’d describe us as a fraternity of talented athletes from across the country. The ultimate goal is to help our players get post-secondary scholarships. Right now, about 89 per cent of them get scholarships and play at the Division 1 level.

Aside from its elite alumni roster, what sets Uplay apart from other clubs? When players come to us, they’ll get an explanation. We don’t just show them how to use certain angles or arcs or how to use their energy; we tell them why and when to use those techniques. And I’m known as a master skills developer. After seeing someone play for 30 to 45 seconds, I know right away where they could improve. A lot of it is body position, angles, where the ball is placed. I’m an expert in this space. I specialize in turning a B+ into an A+.

I’m assuming that not just anyone can join? We find players through four avenues: they can try out, be recommended by former members or be seen by one of our travelling scouts. And then we have American universities, professional teams and sports agents who hit us up to say, “Hey, there’s somebody we’d like to get into the program so you can train them.”


Any specific traits you look for in a player? I start by looking at their support system. Do they have people who are going to hold them accountable to the principles of hard work and goal-setting? Only after that do I look at the player themselves. Is the kid going to change his mind if a butterfly goes by? I try to find people who are consistent, who have stick-to-it-iveness. Talent is hard work. I don’t work with people who think they’re going to the NBA—I work with people who think they’re going to try to be the best versions of themselves.

Behind NBA stars like RJ Barrett, Shai Gligeous-Alexander, Lindell Wiggington and Shaedon Sharp is a single elite coach working out of an his unassuming Brampton gym—his name is Dwayne Washington. Since 2018, over a quarter of all the Canadian players drafted in the NBA have been alum of Washington’s Uplay program, a private basketball club focused on the development of young athletes through basketball and academics.
Dwayne Washington, founder of Uplay Canada at their practice court in Brampton, Ontario. Wednesday, June 28, 2023.

Lindell Wigginton, now with the Milwaukee Bucks, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, with the Oklahoma City Thunder, are just a couple of the players that have come through the program. Did anyone blow you away from the start? Lindell Wigginton’s explosiveness really impressed me, but also his humbleness. When you have that type of athletic ability and are humble, it’s a beautiful thing. RJ Barrett was driven, intense, focused and highly intelligent—RJ did not need basketball. He could’ve been a lawyer. He got a 4.0 GPA at Duke University.

What’s it like watching your former students play in NBA games? It’s changed over the years. Just like anything, you get a little desensitized. But we still give them corrections, talk to them about doing things right. We work with students throughout their careers, even after they retire. We have group chats and calls where the guys in the NBA talk to our eighth graders.

Is coaching prospective basketball stars as glamorous as it sounds? Not quite. Resources are not endless—too often, people just see the results and don’t understand all the sacrifices. I put a lot of my own money in, just like any other teacher in the country. I stay late, coach on the weekends. People with private clubs are not making a million dollars. They just love doing it and are trying to stay afloat.

What would you do if you had unlimited resources? I’d probably do more events in Europe, to compete against top clubs over there. I’d also take on some younger students and create a three-court facility just outside the GTA as a home base for the club.


This past season, the NBA had a record number of Canadian players, and there have been rumours of a northern expansion for the WNBA. What’s behind this new golden era of Canadian basketball? I think it’s a combination of things. Firstly, you have the recent success of the Raptors. Then you have people coming here from countries where they love basketball, from the Philippines, Africa, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe. There are also more camps, youth programs and clubs across the country, where coaches can spend time with the kids. And games are available on television, YouTube and social media. It lets kids see what’s out there.

Some alumni have come back as trainers at Uplay. What’s it like to work alongside people you used to coach? That’s happening regularly now as I’m getting older and closer to retiring. Francis Kiapway, Michael Hamilton, Jarryn Skeete and Marquell Fraser have all come back. It’s like cloning yourself, to a degree. Seeing people come back is actually the most fulfilling thing for me, even more than seeing former students get jobs that make them millions. I do this to help people, to get them scholarships. It’s changed the trajectory of their families’ lives and, in some instances, their whole communities. To have people come back shows me that they care about the fact that I take time away from my family, my life and my personal goals to do this work. You can’t put a price on it.

Are you training any currently unknown players that Canadian basketball fans should be excited about? Amari Upshaw. He’s in the gym right now. He’s only in grade nine, but he should have a very bright future. He’s a phenomenal player, the best in the country. We’re trying to get him to be one of the best in the world by the time he graduates high school.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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