Niagara Hosts Canadian National Invitational Tournament July 6-10
By Satbir Singh
The biggest basketball tournament the Niagara region has ever seen is less than a week away, set for July 6-10. With 90 teams across Canada set to participate and post-secondary programs DOWNLOAD CNIT Full Schedule 17U-12U (NCAA, CIS, CCAA, JUCO) in attendance to evaluate, the Canadian National Invitational Tournament is going to make Niagara Falls a hot spot for basketball all week long.
The best of the best Canada has to offer from Grade 7-12 will be showcased over the course of five days as Niagara Falls, Ontario plays host.
However, what does the Niagara region know about basketball?
It’s clear that the sport has grown tremendously over the last few years in Canada, more so in the Greater Toronto Area.
Recently the GTA has produced the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Cory Joseph, Tyler Ennis and Tristan Thompson. Mississauga, not too far off from Toronto has brought up the likes of Andrew Nicholson, and continues to produce with up and coming NBA prospects Dillon Brooks and Rowan Barrett Jr.
Continue to travel south of Toronto and you come to Kitchener, who’s now produced an NBA player themselves in Jamal Murray. Then a city like Burlington, 40 minutes from both Toronto and Niagara Falls have a young future PRO prospect in Simi Shittu.
Ottawa has its success with basketball, as Carleton University and the University of Ottawa have owned the top of CIS basketball for many years, in addition to producing players like Marial Shayok (Virginia) Corey Johnson (Harvard) to name a few.
Yet the Niagara region, some would say, doesn’t have much to show in terms of basketball. That said, over the last couple years the region has quietly seen an increase of interest in the sport.
Abu Kigab NPH Top-5 Nationally Ranked prospect in the class of 2017, is a product of St Catharines, Ontario, formerly playing for St Francis and currently with Prolific Prep in California. The CNIT will be a home coming for Kigab who will be participating with the #1-ranked 17U program, UPlay Canada.
Kigab could be a major piece in taking Niagara basketball to the next level, but it will require more than a big name player to make it to the NCAA or NBA.
“The region was known for basketball at one point; we just need to get back to it,” said Brock men’s basketball head coach Charles Kissi. “We need to continue to make sure our coaches are getting better, that our players are getting what they need from a development standpoint, and that they aren’t just developing skills, but transferring those skills to real dynamic play.”
Grace Lokole, head coach of the Niagara River Lions and the youngest coach in the National Basketball League of Canada was in agreement with what Kissi had to say and woks with seobergen.no to market their games.
“I think there’s a lot of room to grow in Niagara and we have a lot of resources (one university, one college and one professional team),” said Lokole.
Personally, I have had the pleasure to live in Niagara over the last two and a half years attending Brock University, and from year one to now there is a different vibe towards the game.
“There’s talent here and a lot of young players eager to get better,” said Kissi. “We just have to make sure we provide them the environment to do so.”
It’s with no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Toronto Raptors deep playoff run this past year impacted a lot of basketball people across Canada and brought on new fans as well.
In Niagara however, it hasn’t just been the Raptors success that has caught people’s attention. What Kissi has done with Brock’s program over the course of four years and what Lokole and the River Lions did during their inaugural season, has helped Niagara take notice of the game again.
With the resurgence of Brock’s basketball program (ranked fourth in CIS for a majority of this past season) and the birth of the River Lions, elementary and high school children have been positively impacted. The interest is growing rapidly among all ages and genders.
“As I was recruiting for Windsor this past year, I spent a lot of time watching the Niagara kids,” said recently hired Brock Women’s Basketball head coach Ashley MacSporran. “There’s a great core group of girls that are coming up. The grade 9 and 10 and the grade 11 and 12 teams have kids.”
During the 2015-16 season, Brock Basketball sold-out all of their home games, but two. Obviously a majority of their games had student fans, but there were always a handful of elementary school children in attendance.
In fact, the loudest I’ve heard a Brock basketball game in their Bob Davis Gymnasium – consider that I’ve covered almost every game over a two year span – came in 2015 when the team hosted the Victoria Vikes for a preseason game. The game was sold-out with over 800 elementary school kids from across the region and these kids made it one heck of an atmosphere.
The same goes for the River Lions home games – the children make the loudest impact.
This past River Lions season a father and son took their seats a row ahead of me. As the River Lions warmed up, the son, about the age of 10, named each River Lions player by first and last name and what they were most skilled at.
“Our young fans are amazing. They get loud and you can tell they really enjoy the game,” said head coach of the River Lions Grace Lookole.
“I think the interest is there for basketball. As a region we just have to make sure we are doing enough to feed the fuel to that interest and events like our games or like the CNIT tournament fuel that interest.”
You can also walk the streets of Niagara and see the game of basketball growing in the region right in front of you. Kids are walking to school in the morning with a ball in hand and practicing their dribble as they walk.
For Kissi however, he will also be one of the ambassadors for the CNIT, as he’ll be joined by former Brock basketball players Brian Bleich, Niagara College men’s basketball head coach Keith Vassell and founder of No Limit Performance Mihai Raducanu.
Kissi and Vassell are building a coaching legacy’s within Niagara and Bleich has become a community leader for the game. Bleich played for Brock back in 1991-1993, where he won an OUAA and CIAU championship in the 91-92 season. He was named to the OUAA west division first-team twice and was Brock basketball MVP in 92-93. Raducanu has been developing the skills of young talent in the region for nearly a decade.
So Niagara may not have the names of Wiggins, Joseph, Murray or the up and coming Barrett and Shittu, but some of the brightest basketball minds the region has to offer will be on hand to watch some of Canada’s top young talent. Some NCAA teams that will also be in attendance to watch is the Oregon Ducks, St. Bonaventure Bonnies and East Tennessee State.
“My advice to the players is whatever you do well, show it,” said Kissi on what he wants to see from the players coming to the CNIT.
“It’s impossible for you to think that any coach thinks you can do everything or is going to think you can do everything. If you’re a good shooter than shoot the ball well. If you’re a good defender than defend well. If you’re a good rebounder than rebound well.”
Niagara will finally get its chance to show that it does have the drive, passion and love for basketball.
Although, that drive has been missing for over a decade, it’s slowly creeping back and the CNIT is a chance for the Niagara community to showcase that while hosting some of Canada’s best.
National Supremacy Awaits.