With two seasons left in my NBA career, I’m still busy and obsessed as ever with the game of basketball.
And in 2012, I was named the general manager of the Canadian national team. You might ask: Why would I accept such a prominent, important management role in Canadian hoops while I’m still playing?
Indeed, it’s an odd situation. Ability-wise, it’s a team for which I could still play. But playing GM is a whole different game. I’ve often asked myself whether I can do the job while I’m physically absent essentially 50 weeks of the year. (Some others might just be asking: “How did he get that gig?”)
I took the position early (before I retired) because it doesn’t take much to see the pipeline of potential running through the Canadian ranks — from 12-year-olds to star college players such as Andrew Wiggins to NBA players such as Tristan Thompson and now Anthony Bennett.
AAU fuels Canadian hoops rise
Before the impact of Canadian basketball could be felt at the college and pro levels, it had to start on the youth and grassroots circuit.
Grassroots Canada, founded by Ro Russell in 1992 and originally known as Toronto Elite, was the first Canadian grassroots program to earn a major sneaker sponsorship. In 2008, it won the prestigious adidas Super 64 championship behind future Texas star and NBA lottery pick Tristan Thompson. Other prominent alumni include Andrew Wiggins, Cory Joseph and Myck Kabongo.
Thompson and Wiggins eventually defected to CIA Bounce, a team that would also feature the top pick of the 2013 draft, Anthony Bennett. It also included Tyler Ennis, the No. 20 player in the 2013 ESPN 100 and a current freshman at Syracuse.
Moving forward, it seems the Canadian influence on grassroots basketball is here to stay, and will continue to grow. The nation’s No. 19 player in the 2015 class, Montaque Gill-Ceasar, is from Ontario, as is the No. 7 sophomore, Justin Jackson.
— Adam Finkelstein
Canadian basketball has arrived.
But where is all of this talent coming from? I’d contend a lot of talent has always been there, but a number of things have allowed the talent to emerge and be recognized in the United States and beyond. Although we’ve had a sprinkling of Canadian NBA players, we’re now in a golden era where it seems we boast multiple McDonald’s All Americans because American fans and evaluators recognize the talent. And those guys can turn into Wiggins (with an NBA future) and Bennett, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2013 NBA draft. It seems there are even more Canadian first-round draft picks every year, with more sure to follow.
Right now interest and participation in the game in Canada is at an all-time high. While my friends and I grew up watching the NBA like a lot of Canadians, the arrival of the Toronto Raptors and the Vancouver Grizzlies brought the NBA and the game of basketball into more households across the country exponentially and with a new intimacy. The sport’s visibility exploded, and with it so did interest, excitement and participation.
For six and a half years, much of Canada’s young talent watched and fell in love with a flamboyant, human highlight film named Vince Carter. He inspired them nightly while playing for the home team Raptors. I think Vince’s presence in our country shouldn’t be underestimated. His charisma was incredibly powerful in attracting a Canadian audience to the game of basketball for a memorable period of time. More and more kids play basketball every year in Canada, and I think the NBA’s arrival played a pivotal role in the game’s growth.
Of course, it would be incredibly naive to discount the Internet’s effect on our country’s players, coaches and fans. When I was coming up, there was a strong tradition and culture of basketball in our communities, but it was small. Especially when compared with hockey and soccer. For me to know Jason Kidd’s game and style when I was in high school, I had to be one of the 12 Under-16s or Under-17s in all of British Columbia chosen to represent our province at the Las Vegas Invitational AAU tournament. In other words, I had access to resources the average Canadian teen did not.
Now, any Canadian kid can jump on YouTube and not only watch the world’s best and brightest — including within their age group — but also even see and learn what training regimens or practice sessions look like in other countries and programs. This goes for coaches, too.
This helped expose Canadian players to the type of talent that was out there, allowed them to compare their games and abilities and, in a way, offered the first challenge for our young players: “He’s the best out there? I’m coming for him, then.” It’s possible those exact words crossed the lips of Thompson, Bennett, Wiggins, Cory Joseph, Andrew Nicholson, Robert Sacre, Kelly Olynyk, Myck Kabongo, Dwight Powell or Trey Lyles.
Lastly, the grassroots/AAU programs in Canada have changed the landscape for our young players. While not always perfect, it’s hard to argue with what I view as two major successes:
1. Providing hundreds if not thousands of kids the opportunity to earn college basketball scholarships.
2. Offering this bumper crop of Canadians a chance to travel to the U.S. and play against the best in their class — to prove they belong.
So now it’s on me and our management team to foster this development and growth. Can we raise money (government funding is minimal) and build a program and culture that embodies our vision of developing talent and put a team on the floor that competes with the world’s best?
It’s no small order but one that has me brimming with passion and pride. Put simply, I love my country and I love basketball. This game and the Canadian program has afforded me so much that I get excited thinking we are building a program and system that will allow these kids and our national team to realize their dreams individually and collectively.
Each summer, whether I was in college or in the first part of my NBA career, the Canadian program gave me an incredible opportunity to raise my game to another level. I desperately hope the experiences I’ve had and wisdom I’ve gained playing the game at the highest level for nearly two decades can overcome any inexperience I show as a rookie GM, but more importantly, help Canada’s young players reach their potential.
Assuming that Team Canada can qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla offers a potential team of players (along with their current team), that could represent the country. (*probable starters)
|Kelly Olynyk*||C||Boston Celtics|
|Tristan Thompson*||PF||Cleveland Cavaliers|
|Anthony Bennett*||SF||Cleveland Cavaliers|
|Andrew Wiggins*||SG||Kansas Jayhawks|
|Cory Joseph*||PG||San Antonio Spurs|
|Andrew Nicholson||PF||Orlando Magic|
|Trey Lyles||PF||Arsenal Technical (H.S.)|
|Nik Stauskas||SG||Michigan Wolverines|
|Tyler Ennis||PG||Syracuse Orange|
|Melvin Ejim||SF/PF||Iowa State Cyclones|
|Kevin Pangos||PG/SG||Gonzaga Bulldogs|
|Dwight Powell||C||Stanford Cardinal|