Orangeville Prep made its mark on the basketball world this past fall when the program confirmed the arrival of Thon, and younger brother Matur Maker to Canada.
However, the vision of nurturing top-notch talent in Canada (at various levels) has been in place for over a decade, when the Athlete Institute first opened in 2000.
Jesse Tipping, the president of Athlete Institute, a former CIS player, is responsible for the five-division operation–both Orangeville & A.I prep teams falling under the same umbrella.
Tipping’s role is to manage the staff, along with attention toward the four other sectors–facilities, therapy, fitness and high performance (elite strength & conditioning).
All five divisions intertwine according to Tipping, who says a lot of what they do is geared toward the same end goal.
“Help kids achieve their dreams,” he said. “A result of that will be our stamp of canadian basketball.”
An individual that has also had his stamp on the game in this country is Tony McIntyre, founder of the CIA Bounce program, who has been added to the A.I staff as director of basketball operations.
“The reason I brought on Tony was for his management background, more than AAU…it’s a bonus that he’s a basketball junky and knows that world,” said Tipping.
“I thought together it would be a pretty a good fit.”
Past the midway point of the season, A.I’s flagship program Orangeville Prep has travelled to six states across North America, where they have left their mark, competing in exciting environments against the best that America has to offer.
It’s a flatout star-studded roster, with Thon Maker and Jamal Murray at the forefront, alongside UNLV commit Jalen Poyser, to name a few.
Over the course of the season, Head Coach Larry Blunt explained that there has been a change in the way the team has been received in America.
“Early on we walked in the gyms, and people were like…Orangeville Prep who? Now when we walk in, guys are like, that’s Orangevile Prep.”
A big part of the intrigue is that this program is Canadian –very unique in it’s infrastructure, and to me, is personally the most talented roster I’ve ever seen at the high school level from top to bottom.
“I think I’m the only American on the team…we take most people’s best shot. We go in gyms, and it’s common practice to hear “U-S-A” chants,” said Blunt.
Thon Maker, for those of you who don’t know, is highly regarded in America, as some basketball pundits believe he’s the number one prospect in the class of 2016–a future NBA lottery pick.
At 7’1 with guard abilities, Thon’s skill to size ratio has never been seen before–the player mould he would most resemble would be a fusion of Kevin Durant and Kevin Garnett.
Then you have 6’5 guard Jamal Murray, an ever evolving young man with a rare hunger for the game. Another potential future lottery pick.
Both players are extremely competitive, yet unselfish.
“We want to see how far we can take this team. You guys miss a lot in practice, guys do some amazing things in practice,” Murray told North Pole Hoops.
“A lot of guys on this team are college ready, and people don’t always see it in games.”
Murray uses 2017 PG Jahvon Blair as an example–from one Jordan Brand Classic MVP to another.
“Juggy (Jahvon), he’s so hard to guard with his left hand, his sequences are different, but stuff like that people don’t always see on the court,” said Murray.
The team is battling with injuries as two of their starters (Kyle Alexander and Matur Maker) have been inactive.
However, Coach Blunt understands the team’s depth and doesn’t hesitate to use it to their advantage.
“I think we came in with the expectation that everyone will be able to help in some capacity…it’s been great for a lot of other guys to step up.”
Watching them on and off the floor, the team looks very comfortable and supportive of each other’s goals.
The most enjoyable part of the season has been seeing the comraderie for one another, says Blunt.
“We have a lot of really good pieces but to see these guys come together…the smiles, the jokes…when you travel so much and you’re the road team from a different country, that’s really helped us gel.”
Murray mentioned that with the new addition of the Makers, the team is still growing and are far from reaching their peak.
For Tipping, watching Athlete Institute evolve over the years has been a true process.
In addition to Orangeville Prep, the A.I team, coached by Brandon Lesovsky is no slouch, featuring Canadian high school talent from across the country, including Miles Seward, committed to the University of Northern Colorado.
Lesovsky’s crew has also been competing against Canadian and American competition, explaining that his group has bought into their team’s concepts.
Coach Lesovsky says that everyone on the team has matured throughout the season, and have learned how to play for each other.
The two teams recently faced off against each other, where A.I Prep gave Orangville a run, leading on multiple occassions, up until O-Prep took control in the fourth quarter for the 89-75 victory.
In addition to the five-division operation that takes place in the building, Canada Basketball’s Junior Academy (in it’s third year) also operates out of the Athlete Institute facility.
“We want to touch as many lives through the game of basketball,” explained Tipping.
It’s never been done quite like this before in Canada.
Tipping, along with his staff have ambitions of raising their own bar.
“It’s gone a lot of different ways. Before, Athlete Institute was a hidden gem of a facility for players to come out and shoot.”
“It has now evolved into something special, utilized for everyday basketball.”