True Growth of Canadian Basketball or A lot of Hype?

Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph are pioneers because they earned Canadians respect in America. Canadians no longer have to leave the country for that respect

Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph are pioneers because they earned Canadians respect in America. Canadians no longer have to leave the country for that respect

Countries like Lithuania, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Spain and the U.S are light years ahead of Canada as far as basketball development is concerned…Why?

Canadian basketball has recently been receiving some incredible hype in the American and Canadian media. The hype sounds a lot like “there is an incredible hot bed of talent” and “our basketball talent is exploding at the seams” “Canadian basketball is on the rise” etc etc.

Personally, I don’t see it; I don’t see all of that hype. What I do see is some tremendous individual talent coming up year after year but we as a country aren’t really developing or getting better…yet.

Developing Canadian Talent at Home Base

Andrew Nicholson [Orlando Magic] completed high school at Father Goetz in Mississauga, Ontario

Andrew Nicholson [Orlando Magic] completed high school at Father Goetz in Mississauga, Ontario | Courtesy: Toronto Star

First of all, I can’t completely buy into the hype if all of this talent leaves our Country at a young age to flourish and develop somewhere else.

To me it seems like we really don’t develop our own players and we haven’t built a system to even keep them playing in our own Country. How is our youth supposed to truly develop if our great players are never really playing or training in Canada within a system? How does our youth really learn from a player if you can only see him on TV once in a while?

The likes of Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph, have been referred to as the “pioneers” for the reason that they have set the tone. Two prime examples of players that made Americans believe that Canada has talent. We now have the attention of college coaches all over the country; elite level players don’t have to make the trip south to reach their dreams.

Tristan Thompson on making it from home (

Thompson said that he’ll know Canadian basketball has made it when players don’t have to leave the country to play in high school and college.

“To be able to stay home and make it from, say, Toronto, would be huge for our country,”At that point, I think we can say Canada has really made it in terms of having basketball being a premier sport in our country”

Kelly Olynyk was a high school star at South Kamloops in British Columbia, currently with the Boston Celtics | Courtesy: The Province

Kelly Olynyk was a high school star at South Kamloops in British Columbia, currently with the Boston Celtics | Courtesy: The Province

Proof of that comes in the form of players like Steve Nash, Andrew Nicholson, Kelly Olynyk, Kevin Pangos; all high level players that came out of the Canadian high school basketball system. In other words, YES IT IS POSSIBLE, no matter what they tell you.

When you take into consideration the level of talent, particularly in Ontario (GTA), one could argue that we have pound for pound the best talent pool in the game, up there with major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc.

Canada's biggest basketball star Steve Nash, also complete HS career in Canada

Canada’s biggest basketball star Steve Nash, also complete HS career in Canada | Courtesy: Windsor Star

So what are we missing? The talent is present, and so are high school basketball programs who have been around for decades.

The system is not perfect by any means. The lack of a shot clock really hurts, in some cases gym time is hard to come by, and competition can fluctuate. These are weaknesses we must address moving forward to improve the system.

However, all kids have to do is work hard and work often. Young, hungry players have been overcoming these obstacles for years. I was on of them.

The change has to start somewhere, and it has to start within our country.

A point that we cannot under estimate is that a majority of high school basketball coaches, are teachers by profession. I will admit, some ‘coaches’ are awful and might only be there coaching because nobody else wanted to do it within the school. But as far as basketball PROGRAMS across the province (and country) are concerned, those coaches are basketball lifers, who volunteer their time because they love the game and want to impact the youth through the sport. Generally speaking, these people are true teachers of the game, more than qualified.

Canadian athletes are leaving the country, thinking they are guaranteed a scholarship just because they play at a random high school in America…far from the truth. In most cases, players are actually losing opportunities by going to the U.S, trying to adjust to new environments and becoming small fish in a big ocean.

The time when we begin encouraging our athletes to remain and compete at home, will be the time where true development of the game in our country can take place.

Countries like Lithuania, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Spain have their youth developing, training and playing with their elite players…competing at a high level and sharing knowledge.

We collectively need to take care of home base.

Less ‘Exposure’ More Skill Development

Over the course of the last few years I have been paying close attention to the questions above and I think I have it narrowed down to two fundamental reasosn for our problems: EXPOSURE + EXCUSES.

Since 2007, I have trained and coached over 3000 Canadian basketball players from every level including the N.B.A and upon evaluation to our development, I constantly see coaches and parents prioritizing games over work outs to the detriment of the player’s development. As of this September, we [A-Game Hoops] have nine players playing NCAA D1 basketball who joined our program in the tenth grade or earlier and completed their high school careers in the GTA.

These nine guys all worked hard every moment [whether it was with me or their other coaches] and never made excuses about the obstacles they faced in high school. The best one of the group only ever played one AAU tournament.

We as a basketball community make an excuse for everything. I feel as though we are not being honest with our youth and as a result we are failing the majority of our developing players.

Exposure is a dirty word and it is the root cause to our problems. Within the relentless hunt for exposure, players, parents and coaches makes excuse after excuse as to why they didn’t get enough or why they need more.

In my opinion we have become a basketball country full of excuses and no one is really admitting or taking accountability for the truth; we are not really getting better. Exposure is at an all-time high with youtube, social networks, media and countless AAU programs to choose from. An example of these excuses–when a player is not getting the minutes he wanted on his high school, club or AAU team, his coaches and parents allow him to transfer programs until he finds one where he plays the most. I have had a tonne of kids that do this.

Instead of buckling down and having coaches and parents creat a plan for improvement, kids just run away from their weaknesses and it is killing the game in our country.

When a kid transfers programs multiple times, everyone is to blame. There are many reasons one might have to transfer but minutes and production should not be one. We need to teach our coaches to identify weaknesses and have them create a plan of attack that will not only make the kid a better player, but a better person.

If a kid is the hardest working player on the team with a sound skill set he will always get minutes. If a player does not have a skill set and he is not the hardest worker he should be held accountable, not supported in efforts to play elsewhere.

If anything, we need less exposure and more skill development.

How do you take ten 13 year old kids to Pittsburgh for a tournament when only two can shoot or dribble properly? Don’t you think it would be in the best interest of the kids that they trained more often and traveled as a reward instead of a priority? When I ask that exact question to parents and coaches, the excuses start to flow as to why 13 year old kids should rather play three games in Pittsburgh than stay home and build their skill set ; “they need it” “it’s fun” “they need the experience” etc. etc.

Don’t get me wrong, Canada is on fire, we will have the back to back first overall pick in the NBA draft that its crazy and very positive from an individual talent standpoint. There is even more individual talent in the pipe line, but as a whole I feel like we are in some serious trouble and the root cause is our willingness to accept so many excuses.

  • Excuses from parents as to why kids have to leave Canada and go to prep school, even though the kid can’t shoot properly or dribble with his head up
  • Excuses as to why so many kids didn’t qualify academically
  • Excuses from parents and players as to why they have to join a club team in September, practice in the middle of the high school season and then play more games as soon as the high school season ends
  • Excuses as to why kids need to play more games and tournaments than practice


In many cases Kids play at four different high schools, three different AAU teams, two club teams and then they blame everyone but themselves for their shortfalls of not qualifying or not getting a scholarship.

What happened to to the old motto, Hard work pays off??? Players create their own destiny, and it’s up to the adults to hold the youth accountable, while providing guidance along the way:

  • We must prioritize teaching our kids how to sacrifice, train and work, so the exposure will come to them and they don’t have to chase it
  • Coaches have to be honest with kids, tell them exactly what their weaknesses are and hold them accountable for not correcting those weaknesses
  • We must teach our young developing players how to goal set and deal with adversity instead of showing them the quick fixes. The programs that do this have better students, people and most importantly better adults.
  • We have to stop making excuses and start making things happen. When we do, better players will stay in Canada for their development and kids will not be as quick to leave their high schools early in avoidance of the CIS
  • Make sure our young players play less games and invest more into their bodies and their skills they will be more prepared and in the long term better international players
  • We can’t let kids or their parents make excuses for poor performances. Players must identify problems, weaknesses and honestly evaluate a plan to advance and not make the same mistakes twice
  • After a long tough high school season players should take a break and have a long itemized list of what to work on and how to make improvements on their bodies’ and games. The last thing developing players need at that time of the year is more games.


We definitely have some tremendous individual talent in this country. But I am worried. I don’t see our players playing with older guys enough, I see too many kids leaving Canada who aren’t ready and I don’t see the skills being taught and prioritized the way so many successful European countries do. Worst of all, I don’t see it on the Scoreboard internationally… YET.

This is not a bashing of our downfalls, but more of a realization that there is so much more we can collectively do for our student-athletes.

It has to start with keeping them in the country, developing their skills, with no room for excuses.



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