Turn On The Bright Lights

Canadian high school stars finally get the national stage they deserve

by on March 28, 2015

On April 14th, 24 of Canada’s best high school basketball players will take to the court for inaugural BioSteel All-Canadian High School Basketball Game. For the first Canadian high school basketball will take a national stage.

Taking cue from our neighbours to the south, the event will be styled like the McDonald’s All-American Game, including a skills competition and dunk contest, fitting for a hyped up talent showcase aimed to attract the eyeballs of fans and scouts, both of whom are on the brink of realizing the levels of basketball talent available in Canada. A national title sponsor in BioSteel and a national broadcaster in TSN ensure a higher profile for the event, with the the Mattamy Center at Ryerson a place that had previously been a fantastic and vibrant host of the CIS men’s Final 8 National Basketball Championship. All of this is a spectacle that is currently absent in the Canadian hoops scene.

Taking center stage will be some very talented high school stars.

Thon Maker (Orangeville Prep, ON, via Sudan), Jamal Murray (Orangeville Prep, ON) and Jermaine Haley (South Burnaby HS, BC) are among are among the 24 under-18 players ready to take the hardwood in two weeks, but the talent pool runs deeper than headliner names. While taking second looks at the well-known prospects like Maker, scouts will be getting their first glimpse of many other players that could land opportunities at elite Division I NCAA programs. Unlike the McDonald’s All-Star Game, the game is open to players who aren’t seniors, because players can use the game to develop year after year while also getting needed exposure on more than one occasion. The full list is available here.

Media has been keen to announce the coming of age of basketball in Canada, and this is the first true tangible result of this surging popularity at the high school or amateur level.

As you dive deeper into the grassroots of basketball in Canada, the surprisingly fast growth of the Raptors and influence of Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett both begin to fade, fast. Organizationally, the infrastructure of Canadian basketball is minuscule compared to our American cousins, who are ever-so-quick to gobble up our best talent to fill the rosters of their highest calibre AAU and NCAA squads. For fans of Canadian high school basketball, the remarkable success of Canadian prospects is often bittersweet. As soon as a player is good enough to attract the attention of a top level scout, they rarely showcases their talent on hardwood north of the border.

Canadian basketball infrastructure is growing, and bound to benefit from the increased exposure gained from this national event. For the organizers to be able to organize the event as they have – featuring players from all corners of the country, vetted by a network of scouts and organizers that have been putting in the time for years – is a success achieved by a network of coaches, media and scouts that has brought us this far. Similar events have been run for years, desperate for attention and eyeballs but nonetheless able to showcase a previous generation of players. Having world class high school talent is a reflection of a dedicated network of basketball professionals, and finally high school basketball has a national profile. This is a win for a large community of dedicated people.

The close relationship between CIA Bounce, an AAU program from the Toronto area, and Orangeville Prep Athlete Institute, who share a founder in Tony McIntyre, came together as a “perfect storm” to create the showcase. They managed to partner with federal and provincial representatives to create a truly national event, leading to a media partner and a title sponsor, which gives this particular game a legitimacy that other talent showcases have not.

While the commitment of a title sponsor, BioSteel, is vitally important to the on-going success of the event, having TSN on board , the monolith in Canadian sports media, is truly what sets this apart from any predecessors. Suddenly an exclusive event gains a Twitter audience, any dunks and oops broadcast and re-interpreted as Vines and GIFs. A TV broadcast limited to TSN’s Canadian audiences, any Vine-worthy oops should make it to sports blogs without issue.

All of the major factors that grew the game in Canada – the Raptors and Grizzlies, the rampant success of Steve Nash, Andrew Wiggins and this blossoming next generation of talent – the unifying thing about all of them is that they eliminated the excuse of improbability for anyone who was ever pressured of giving up on their dreams. Leading a successful life through basketball is tangible, when before it was not. Players, coaches, scouts, media members will all benefit from leveling up, suddenly their world cast into the spotlight of national sports media.

Less than a decade ago, it took a second MVP trophy for Steve Nash to gain a fraction of the profile that a high school star like LeBron James had when he entered the NBA. Things have truly changed. Thon Maker and Jamal Murray are ready to make our acquaintance, igniting a new and exciting chapter in Canadian basketball. Turning on the bright lights, suddenly the stakes got a little bit higher for thousands of Canadian high school ballers.

On the morning of April 15, an unknown player somewhere in Canada is going to train harder than they ever have before.

is the founder, editor and designer of Flagrant Fowl.

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