“Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-AHHHHHH!!!”

Dalano Banton is flying high, doing his best Bobby Shmurda impression after hearing his name get called on NBA draft night in July. He’s just been picked in the second round by the Toronto Raptors, the team he grew up cheering for, becoming the first Canadian-born player to be drafted by the franchise.

The 21-year-old stands up, beaming, giving hugs to the close friends and trainers who’ve congregated in the Chicago hotel room for the occasion. “Let’s gooo!! Back to the city, boys!” he exclaims. “Back to the city!”

It’s the dream scenario of every Toronto kid who’s played NBA 2K MyCareer mode: starting your pro journey with the hometown team. Wishful thinking for most basketball fans from the 6ix. But for youth from Rexdale, the neighbourhood on Toronto’s northwest edge that Banton hails from, it’s a goal that, until now, seemed utterly unthinkable—something so beyond the realm of possibility it wasn’t worth fantasizing about.

“I can’t even explain it with words, the shit that I’m feeling inside,” Banton tells me a couple months after draft night. “It’s still crazy, waking up and going to practice with the Raptors. It’s a dream come true every day.

“Being from Rexdale, it’s hard to try to make something of yourself. So coming from that environment and being able to do something positive for myself, I feel like it’ll open more doors for people to believe that it could happen for them.”

The six-foot-nine point guard’s history-making selection by the Raptors has sent ripples through Rexdale and other low-income communities like it across the Greater Toronto Area. Before even playing his first official NBA game, he’s already become a beacon of hope for kids across the city. He’s giving them a reason to dream.

“The smile on his face said it all,” says Yoosrie Salhia, Banton’s longtime mentor and coach who was with him on draft night. “He’s the first Canadian to be drafted by the Raptors. And more importantly, he’s a true inner-city kid. He’s a real Toronto kid.”