Behind the Scenes of the Canadian Basketball Revolution

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Behind the Scenes of the Canadian Basketball Revolution
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports


The Canadian basketball revolution is happening, and it's quickly gaining strength. 

Over the last few years, Canada has exploded onto the scene as a source for high-level talent to compete at the Division I and NBA levels. Not only are we seeing more Canadian-born players, but many are highly coveted members of prestigious high schools, colleges and pro organizations. 

Starting on August 30, Canada will have the chance to build on its image at this year's FIBA Americas Championship in Caracas, Venezuela, where the top four teams will advance to the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Though some of its premier players won't be available, the majority of the team will be made up of guys who've recently taken part in Canada's improved developmental programs. 

One of those guys is Tristan Thompson, who kicked it off for Canada in 2011 when the Cleveland Cavaliers selected him No. 4 overall. 

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Two years later, the Cavs took Anthony Bennett with the first pick in the 2013 NBA draft, a historical moment in Canadian basketball. 

Canada is also home to Kansas-bound Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 high school recruit and projected top pick in the 2014 draft.

Back-to-back first overall selections would be quite the statement for a nation that hasn't exactly been considered an NBA-All-Star-producing factory. 

Looking back, Thompson, Bennett and Wiggins all share ties to the same man and AAU program—Mike George and the CIA Bounce.

 

CIA Bounce

George initially founded CIA before teaming up with Bounce (another Canada-based AAU program) founder Tony McIntyre to form the CIA Bounce around seven years ago.

Just recently, George left coaching and the CIA Bounce to join Excel Management as a certified NBA agent. But over the last 15 years, he's helped build a program that's attracted some of Canada's premier young talent you're now hearing about today. 

Thompson was CIA Bounce's first big get, along with Melvin Ejim, currently of Iowa State. From there, George and McIntyre's program became the one to join if you were a highly rated Canadian prospect.

Wiggins led CIA Bounce's 16U team to a gold at the AAU Super Showcase in 2011 and a 26-2 record on Nike's Elite Youth Basketball League circuit. 

After another dominant 2012 summer (17-3 record) in the EYBL, team Canada lost in the Nike Global Challenge finals and in the Peach Jam finals by a point. NCAA coaches began flocking to check out Canada's exciting new teams and batch of prospects.

Anthony Bennett's flight to the top of the 2013 NBA draft board was significant for Canada and the AAU program that helped build his legend. 

"You knew he was special," George said when asked whether he had ever considered Bennett as an option for the first pick in the NBA draft.

"He's a kid that works really hard, great attitude, tremendous team guy. We always knew he was one of the top kids in his class, but to say someone is going to go No. 1—you just couldn't really predict that. But obviously we're extremely happy that he did go."

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

With Bennett and Wiggins emerging as potential long-term NBA cornerstones, it's safe to say that a Canadian basketball revolution is upon us. 

But it's not just a select few standout players. Take a look at some of the recent or current impact Canadians that make up the NCAA's mid-major and power conferences:

 

Notable Current/Recent Canadian-Born Division I Ballers

  School/Pro Team Drafted/Current College Year
Jordan Bachynski Arizona State Sr.

Anthony Bennett

UNLV/Cavaliers No. 1 overall, 2013
Sim Bhullar New Mexico St. So.
Khem Birch UNLV Jr.
Junior Cadougan Marquette Undrafted
Melvin Ejim Iowa State Jr.
Olivier Hanlan Boston College So.
Brady Heslip Baylor Sr.
Cory Joseph Texas/Spurs No. 29 overall, 2011
Kris Joseph Syracuse No. 51 overall, 2012
Myck Kabongo Texas Undrafted
Daniel Mullings New Mexico State Jr.
Andrew Nicholson St. Bonaventure/Magic No. 19 overall, 2012
Kelly Olynyk Gonzaga/Celtics No. 13 overall, 2013
Kevin Pangos Gonzaga Jr.
Andy Rautins Syracuse No. 38 overall, 2010
Robert Sacre Gonzaga/Lakers No. 60 overall, 2012
Nik Stauskas Michigan So.
Tristan Thompson Texas/Cavaliers No. 4 overall, 2011
Marc Trasolini Santa Clara Undrafted
Kyle Wiltjer Gonzaga Jr.

 

The Root of the Explosion

So what's changed? Canada has been riding Steve Nash for the past two decades as its only high-profile NBA representative. What's causing this sudden flurry of Canadian talent, and how has it gotten so heavy?

"A lot of these kids go off to prep schools in the States where they play against high-level competition every game," George said. "It helps them mentally prepare for when they go off to college. One thing you used to hear when Canadian guys in the past went to college in Division I was that they were soft or they weren't meant to dunk. Now that argument is kind of out the window."

Transferring to U.S. prep schools wasn't always a trend. This is a fairly new development for most of the top Canadian prospects. 

Tristan Thompson attended both St. Benedict's Prep in New Jersey and Findlay Prep in Nevada while seeing his name soar up recruiting ranks. Fellow Canadian and first-round pick Cory Joseph of the San Antonio Spurs played alongside him at Findlay. 

Anthony Bennett also made his way to Findlay before staying in-state for a year at UNLV.

Andrew Wiggins transferred from Vaughan, Ontario, to Huntington Prep in West Virginia, where he was named the 2013 Gatorade National Player of the Year. 

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The competition for exposure has simply reached a new level. Every high school baller across the world wants to be ranked in the top 100 of a major recruiting service, and the best way to do that is by coming to the States where the players are better and scouts are abundant.  

 

NBA Expansion into Canada

We can actually trace the root of Canada's explosion back almost two decades ago. George brought up an interesting point that rarely seems to get much play anymore.

"You have the Raptors who play in this country," he said. "You're seeing a lot of people starting to watch the game with that generation, and are more engaged in understanding what basketball is and was."

The Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies were founded in 1995, 18 years ago. Today's 18-to-23-year-old Canadian generation was the first to grow up with NBA home teams. 

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

It's only logical to assume that kids with a home team to follow will share more of a connection to that particular sport. The Raptors are Canada's team, more or less. 

Those Canadian kids who had guys like Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Chris Bosh to root for and idolize are the same teenagers today we're seeing on basketball's global stage. This current crop of Canadian standouts was the first to go through childhood with NBA superstars representing a Canadian city. 

As Canada continues to produce more high-profile names, the interest within its younger generations will grow. 

"I feel like a lot more kids now are motivated because they've seen a lot more Canadians making it big, making it to the NBA," Anthony Bennett told Bleacher Report.  

Canada has even made a well-documented effort to get basketballs in the hands of children at an earlier age. 

"You got kids that are four years old now in the gym playing what they call "small ball" or "kiddy ball," George said. "Hockey was mainly talked about here but now it's basketball too." 

Much of that should be attributed to the Raptors and early Grizzlies, teams who've helped inspire and spark the interest of young Canadian children and parents. 

George mentioned that Toronto "was there" when asked how it stacked up with top-flight basketball cities in the U.S. 

"I'd say we're [Toronto] on par in regards to talent with the New Yorks and such."

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Kelly Olynyk, the No. 13 pick in the 2013 draft, is just another Canadian product with a bright NBA future

As a country, Canada still has work to be done in terms of growing its national teams and competing on an international scale. Unfortunately, it will be without Bennett, Kelly Olynyk (injuries), Wiggins and Robert Sacre (declined to participate) for the FIBA Americas tournament in Venezuela.

But Wiggins and Bennett, along with other promising Canadian prospects scattered across high school and college campuses, are giving Canada's younger generations a reason to care and build on tradition. 

Bleacher Report caught up with Anthony Bennett at the rookie photo shoot and asked him about the influx of talent from Canada to the NCAA and NBA. Click here to read the full interview.

BR: Do you think that Canada will ever get to a point where it can compete with Team USA at the top level?

AB: Hopefully. That's what we kind of want, especially since they're in our backyard. It will be a good thing if it does [Canada competing with Team USA].

BR: How far away do you think we are away from seeing that?

AB: I don't know. All we can really do is produce more talent and try to motivate more kids. We have a good core, I would say, but there are a lot more young guys coming up.

 

Notable Incoming Canadian Freshman to Watch

Andrew Wiggins, Kansas, 6'8'', SF

Arguably the most hyped NBA prospect since Kevin Durant and LeBron James, Wiggins will make Kansas a must-watch whenever it takes the floor. He possesses some of the most electric athletic ability you'll ever see, along with a dominant two-way skill set that drives his towering ceiling.

Wiggins is the heavy favorite entering 2014 to go No. 1 overall.

 

Tyler Ennis, Syracuse, 6'2'', PG

Ennis is a crafty ball-handler and natural point guard expected to slide right into Jim Boeheim's starting lineup. His playmaking skills and leadership qualities will be valuable at the college level, where he can run half-court sets or push the tempo. 

The NBA may not be in his immediate future, but expect Ennis to make the Orange a threat in the ACC. 

 

Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State, 6'3'', SG

Rathan-Mayes played alongside Andrew Wiggins at Huntington Prep, where his perimeter scoring arsenal drew rave reviews. He's a little undersized for a 2, but Rathan-Mayes can handle the ball and put points on the board in bunches. 

He was ruled academically ineligible for the 2013-14 season, but chances are this isn't the last you'll hear from him. 

 

Quotes from Anthony Bennett were compiled by Featured Columnist Dan Favale. Other quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

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