Passing The Torch: The Evolution of Canadian Basketball
“It’s all about helping the kids, and opening the doors.”
Words of wisdom uttered by Mark Walton–the winningest coach in Canadian high school basketball history.
The efforts of the older generation in the basketball community have allowed for budding Canadian talent to kick the doors wide open. The NCAA has been flooded with prospects from North of the border.
However, to be fair to the past, Canadians have been earning scholarships in America for over 30 years. The difference now, is the preparation that athletes receive to not only play division one basketball, but to provide meaningful minutes across the board.
Entering the 2013-2014 season, over 100 Canadians will be competing and contributing to NCAA division one programs from the low to high-major levels.
Last season, major impact players included Anthony Bennett (drafted #1 overall to Cleveland via UNLV), Kelly Olynyyk (Boston Celtics via Gonzaga), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Nik Stauskas (Michigan), Melvin Ejim (Iowa State), Jordan Bachynski (Arizona State), Justin Edwards (Kansas State via Maine) Sim Bhullar (NMSU), Olivier Hanlan (Boston College) Laurent Rivard (Harvard) and Dwight Powell (Stanford) to name a few.
Starting this November, expect nothing less as impact freshman such as Andrew Wiggins (Kansas), Tyler Ennis (Syracuse), Duane Notice (South Carolina) and Mikyle McIntosh (Illinois State) enter the frey, adding to the credibility of Canadians in the college ranks.
Walton has contributed to the mental and physical development of over 50 student-athletes [male and female] in the NCAA over his 26-year coaching tenure at Cathedral secondary, NEDA [National Elite Development Academy] and various clinics.
Coach Walton’s most talented player was John Kijonek, otherwise known as “The right handed Chris Mullen” who was the number one Canadian recruit in the nation in 1984. Kijonek had every major NCAA program in Hamilton, Ontario evaluating the 6’6 shooting guard, who eventually committed to Iona College, and then transferred to Marist.
In Kijonek’s senior year, his Cathedral team played 38 games, and Iona was quite aggressive, “Iona watched 36 of them, they absolutely lived with us,” explained Walton, who is also the only person in Ontario to win an OFSAA provincial championship [equivalent to State title] as a player (‘68) and coach (‘84, ‘94, ‘98) – all of which were undefeated seasons.
Although Walton stressed that Kijonek was talented enough to play at a bigger program, he also explained there was a lack of focus and interest at that time, to pursue such a goal.
“There is so much more press now, and so much social media that it has broken down barriers for players…they don’t feel uncomfortable going to the big time schools,” said Walton.
In today’s era, it would be an absolute shock for the number one player in the country to attend a low-major program. You can take recent years as proof. Myck Kabongo (#1 in 2011) attended Texas, Anthony Bennett (#1 in 2012) attended UNLV, Andrew Wiggins (#1 in 2013) enters freshman season at Kansas, while Trey Lyles (#1 in 2014) will select between Florida, Kentucky, Butler or Lousiville within the coming months.
Media has indeed played a major role in making the basketball world universal, while connecting high-profile athletes to each other, despite geographical location.
Pasha Bains, founder of DRIVE basketball, Canada’s biggest AAU program on the West coast, also agrees.
“Social media and internet has made a huge difference…becoming friends with players in the States, means there is no longer a fear factor. It’s normal for a top-ranked player in Canada to be friends with the top player in U.S now.”
Bains is a trailblazer in his own right, especially for Canadian prospects in British Columbia, given that he played at Clemson for two seasons (1999-2001) before returning to Canada, where he was named 2004 Canadian University Player of the year at Simon Fraser University, setting various records, and ultimately ending his post-secondary career at the University of British Columbia.
In the past, Canadian players had a negative stigma attached to them when it came to being recruited, as opposed to the current state, where college coaches view the country as a hotbed for under recruited talent.
“Back when I was playing, they saw us as foreign, kinda soft, and they didn’t give us as much opportunity. Now, they [NCAA programs] bring in Canadians as a big investment,” explained Bains.
Today, Bains is as invested into the game as he has ever been, passing on the torch to the next generation of talent in British Columbia, while preparing them to surpass his accomplishments.
“That’s something that wasn’t around; back then, there wasn’t that many that played, came back and started teaching. Our generation like me and Vidal learned a lot of lessons, paving the way for this generation and teaching things that did and didn’t work.”
Vidal Massiah was a former teammate of Bains, on the Canadian national team for the 2003 World University games. Massiah, who played NCAA basketball, for St Bonaventure (1998-2002) also runs a thriving AAU program in Toronto, known as Northern Kings.
The reason for starting such a program, was similar to that of Bains, from the standpoint of sharing knowledge with the next generation, and “building better ballers,” a company slogan for The Hoop Factory, a business venture of Massiah’s focused on player development.
“From going through college and playing overseas…seeing how much I missed out on in terms of development compared to kids, whether it be in Europe or in the states,” Massiah answered, when asked about the reason for remaining involved with the game.
“There is a lot of Canadian talent, how do I give back and teach the players back home? That’s why I enjoy training, because it’s teaching, using everything you’ve learned and absorbed over the years,” continued Massiah.
Advice, physical, mental development, exposure
The Toronto Raptors
Raptors influence, growing up watching Vince Carter, which is huge. IT makes a lot of sense how it would give kids confidence and get them into basketball. Coaches in the NCAA have given more respect, and view Canadian players differently.
The training is huge, Canada has been behind, but now we’re catching, they had more academies, clinics, trainers..it’s no coincidence that all these players come from a certain academy or program
Shane James, Jamie McNeilly, guys like that. In my case, I tell kids don’t go to high-major, they are seeing it now as a good fit, not as a prize.
Hopefully it’s been an uphill climb, for kids come back and do the same.”
“I think first and foremost, the game has grown, that’s a direct effect of the Raptors being there. The Raptors sparked the growth tremendously.”
“From going through college, playing overseas…seeing how much I missed out on in terms of development compared to kids whether it be un Europe or in the states.”
“There is a lot of talent, how do I give back? and teach to the players back home. That’s why I enjoy training, because it’s teaching, using everything you’ve learned and absorbed.”
“Filling in the gaps that I saw existed, realized that there wasn’t an environment for me to go to.”
Jabari is a good example, or even Matthew…he went from a kid excited about the top reviewed go karts, to SEC & BIG 10 level…with big guys it takes more time, because you’re not telling them what they want to hear. It’s the dirty work, setting good screens and playing hard.”
I played on winning teams overseas…
Experience lends to better information, which helps them. There’s a lot to learn and if they do so at a younger. they accelerate.
Andrew Nicholson, Cory Joseph, Andrew Wiggins, Jamal Murray.”
They are ultimately, where they aspire to be…now its a domino effect, it’s becoming more real.
“I think in terms of their development, training and competing at a high level on the AAU circuit. they are no longer intimidate and up to the occasion with the best to offer”
“It real comes down to picking a good fit at a good school where you can contribute and use your talent, as opposed to going to a big name. When you look at all the kids that are successful, you say that’s a great fit.”
“The media now a days, whether it be Facebook , twitter…day in and day out, kids are being put to the test. It’s much easier to figure out what iti s that they need to work on.”
If Canada is a hot bed, and Canada is an untapped market. They
our kids are hunger, humble, coachable, and they are good kids. And that goes a long way, because some coaches aren’t used to that. ready to work, get in the trenches and do whatever it takes.”
“It depends on who’s around that kid, the people in your circle, keep you hungry. The people around you are critical to your success.”
The more options a kid has, the less successful they can be. In NYC, kids jump from one program to the next. In essence, the EYBL is the circuit, kids listen kids are open to feedback.”
Giving back from older generation.
“Huge, everything that comes around, goes around and you have to learn from it. If you don’t learn from the past, you are destined to fail in the future.” Knowledge is power…you have to learn from those guys.”
You have to learn from history, to get better in the future.”
“I’m going back to give back. So many people have given back to me. I turned around and said I don’t want to give back in hockey, I want to give back in basketball.”
“He also grew up playing through the AAU scene, he understood from the inside, the good bad and indifferent.” – Mike
Greg Newton (Duke)
Peter Guraci (Fairfied, Simon Fraser)
Natalie Achonwa, Kayla Alexander, Michelle Plouffe, Katherine Plouffe
Phil Martin (Hawaii) — first four year starter at the school
— He was definitely at a higher level, no question about that. (Morgan Wotten – basketball hall of fame coach. said Kijonek was the best player he’d seen in 10 years. scored 33 pts in championship –
“Theres so much more press now, and so much social media that they broken down barriers for players that they don’t feel uncomfortable going to the big time schools.”
“You have so many people with better influences on these young stars. You have more guys. So much more positive energy than the negative vibes. Back in the day there was an entitlement feeling because there were so few of them.”
“Talking with Hurley Senior, the AAU influence and how negative it is. Kids are listening to coaches about getting into the gym and train…they just want go and play games.”
You have older coaches around who recruit character first. Boehlein, Brey at Notre Dame
“You can’t rely on people who are unreliable”
They come back , they got credibility, they’ve been through a program and seen how hard work is. Mehei, Kyle Julius are examples of people giving back. It’s fabulous..
“You need knowledge, you need to work hard…and by doing that, you succeed.”
What was your approach to obtaining a scholarship?
“My approach was the same whether it was to a Canadian or American school. I interviewed all the kids and asked them what level they wanted to play at, then I reached out to all the schools that fit the kid’s profile. It might have been 30 schools for some school, and might by free schools for others.”
“If you weren’t playing basketball, would you be hanging around these kids.”
“Its all about helping the kids, and opening the doors.”
63 years old
I’m lucky enough to have players all over the world, and i know they are giving back to the game in whatever the community their in.
I think its a couple things. first of all. guys like myself who played 1 or 15 years ago, are now starting to giveback to the game. combine that with social media and you’re creating a really significant buzz.
Mike George, played at York
mixtapes, social media
10 years ago win you went to the ymca, played club basketball or even high school basketball, there were few people that could tell you how to get to the NCAA, because there were only a few people around that had got there.
the resourcefulness of people running private organizations
A-Game Hoops, Drive, CIA Bounce, Grassroots Canada, Triple Balance,
we are taking our experiences and sayin what works and what doesn’t.”
For the first time ever, we have people that have been there and done that, coaching our kids.”
Its free enterprise, survival of the fittest. now the kids have the option to choose.
Denham Brown paved the road, a guy that kids could look up to. 10 years before Denham you couldn’t find division one players anywhere.
CIA Bounce – outworked people, made the right decisions, hired the right people
“I put in 10th graders in real life CIS games, great opportunity”
“Im teaching kids in the eighth and ninth grade the little nuances in the game that i didn’t learn until playing at 24 years old in the first league in Italy.” – Serie A
“Its like a chain reaction, more and more good player showing young players what to do.
“Early on in this process it was cool to go to tournaments and get this exposure….kids are starting to realize, its becoming cool to train.”
***The best is yet to come***
— Mark Walton – All-Canadian @ Guelph – only guy to win multiple OFSAA championship as player and coach
– Bob Maydo