• Wayne Dawkins

Part 2 – The Implosion Before the Explosion of Canadian Basketball

Canadians Invade the NBA Draft

On Thursday June 20th 2019, the explosion of Canadian basketball set off a seismic wave when a record 6 Canadians were selected in the 2019 NBA Draft. This amazing achievement has the global basketball community thirsting to find out what new system of basketball development has caused Canada to rise so suddenly as a basketball power. For those of us closest to the epicenter of the explosion, we knew it was going to happen. Canadians have always been hungry and skilled , we just needed a new system with the right opportunities to refine our skills and a platform to showcase our basketball talent to the world!

“The term implosion is used to describe the collapse of a system due to its own flaws in its structure. These flaws lead to an Explosion, a sudden blowing apart of a system.”

Much credit is due to the older Canadian ballers before us. Despite not having a clear path to the highest level of basketball-the NBA, they continued to grind under the old Canadian basketball system. It was in the late 1980’s, as the older heads worked, they prepared my generation through summer tournaments, like the Jane and Finch Classic (Toronto), Martin Luther King (Montreal), the Black Tournament (Nova Scotia), along with local runs like Willie Delas famed George Brown College battle ground. Through these tournaments and runs, the younger ones were taught how to be tough enough to take on any challenge the basketball world outside of our hotbeds had to offer.

Right now the world is looking to Canada Basketball, the sole governing body for basketball in Canada, for the brilliance behind the explosion of successful Canadian basketball players. However, Canada Basketball themselves have yet to acknowledge where the answer to Canada’s success has come from. They have been ignorant to the new system that is responsible for a Canadian National Team men’s rosters filled with NBA talent.

2006 – Maurizio Gherardini, Andrea Bargnani and Brian Colangelo

As a matter of fact, in 2006 the early years of the explosion of talent, Canada Basketball looked right past what was taking place in their own backyard and brought onboard famed Italian Basketball General Manager of Benetton Treviso Maurizio Gherardini to help them figure out how to develop the Canadian talent pool. The Toronto Raptors first hired Gherardini in June of 2006, right before they made Andrea Bargnani from Italy, the first European player selected with the top pick in the NBA draft. Canada quickly followed the Raptor’ new direction. Despite Gherardini’s tremendous success in Europe, the Italian system was not the answer for a new Canadian basketball development system or for changing the success of the Toronto Raptors.

In actuality, the answer to Canada’s success at the youth level lays in a shift that took place in the basketball culture in the 1990’s that eventually triggered an implosion of Canada’s previously broken youth basketball system. A basketball system that was adamantly against young Canadian talent utilizing the U.S., (a basketball superpower right next door) for development and competition. A system that did not value the opportunity for our student athletes to earn full ride NCAA athletic scholarships in lieu of the fact Canadian university did not offer athletic scholarships. A system that also made it difficult for our Canadian youth to be recruited by NCAA schools. A system without a professional league for it’s brightest stars to aspire to until 2011, with the start of the National Basketball League of Canada (NBLC).

“A rising prospect, Birch (Khem Birch) and his mother, Wendy Sparks, sought out a place where the high-flying center could get the maximum exposure and be seen by college – and eventually the NBA – scouts. Because Canadian basketball players had such difficulty getting scholarship opportunities, they chose The Winchendon School in Massachusetts and later Notre Dame Prep just outside of Boston – something that suited Birch just fine.” – By John Denton Feb. 13, 2018

Chris Bouchard- Toronto Raptors and Khem Birch-Orlando Magic

A LOOK BACK LEADING UP TO THE EXPLOSION

Leading up to 2001 the Canadian basketball community was heavily dependent on its governing bodies, (Canada Basketball, Provincial Bodies, USports for Canadian Universities and the High School System) to create opportunities for Canadian athletes and coaches. Young Canadian basketball talent was being encouraged to develop at home playing at local high schools and in within the provincial club system, then into the Canadian University Leagues with hopes of one day playing for our Canadian National Team.

The problem was Canadian ballers had been exposed to the NBA with its glamour, riches, fame and iconic athletes even before the Raptors got here in 1995. We had already fallen in love with NBA teams and their stars. Battles raged amongst Canadian ballers over pledging allegiance to The Laker Show with Magic Johnson or Larry Bird’s Celtics before the whole nation united as followers of Michael Jordan and the Bulls. However there was no clear pathway to the NBA for us Canadians. We could easily see that every NBA roster was loaded with NCAA players and a very small number of International players.

Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird

How could we put our hopes and dreams into a basketball system that had no proof it worked. To this day, in 2019, even with the great explosion of Canadian basketball there is not one Canadian baller that has made an NBA roster through the Canadian University leagues (USports). Will NJoku, St Mary’s U. in Halifax Nova Scotia was the last person to come close when he was selected as the 41st Pick of the 2nd Round by the Indiana Pacers but not make the roster. Why would we accept the Canadian University route to follow our dreams? To make it more discouraging, Canadian Universities didn’t even offer athletic scholarships. The impact of the old Canadian system of basketball was felt greatest in the inner-city where we were hungry for a way out. The claims of a greater Canadian education via student loans was not enough.

The old system of Canadian basketball that left many talented ballers feeling alienated, undervalued and discouraged was still being held in place by it’s biggest beneficiaries well into the early 2000’s. The future of Canadian basketball was completely dependent on the successful implosion of an old system that wasn’t working and embracing a new system that utilized our U.S. neighbors as our primary resource for development.

To see how real that previous statement is, just take a look at our Canadian national team program which will likely field a 2019 FIBA World Qualifying Team that will consist of Canadian players that:

  1. all played NCAA basketball

  2. all played for a U.S. prep program (or Canadian prep program with a U.S. schedule),

  3. all played for an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball team that competed on a jam-packed U.S. AAU circuit.

Team Canada

Add to that Nick Nurse an American Head Coach of the Toronto Raptors and it becomes very clear the explosion of Canadian basketball has always been directly connected to our relationship with and proximity to the United States.

The additional exposure afforded by modern social media and the internet has also served as a magnifying glass on how much Canadian ballers have integrated themselves into the American basketball machine of AAU, National All Star Games, National Recruitment Camps, Sneaker Companies, NCAA College Scouts, NBA/Pro Agents and now U.S. Prep School network. The new Canadian basketball system is in actuality an assimilation into the American basketball system.

There are some that believe the rise in Canadian Pro basketball skills trainers has been responsible for our increased presence in the NBA, but that is not the answer. Basketball skills training or acquisition of basketball skills at the youth level has existed from the start of basketball. It’s only since the Canadian NBA players first started returning home to Canada that the hot title to wear, whether a trainer is well accomplished or certified, has been “Pro Trainer”.The majority of Canada’s top prospects were taught the introductory skills of basketball by a parent or family member before being further nurtured by a village of club coaches, school coaches and skills trainers on their way to being refined through U.S. basketball competition.

Article by 9News.com Roger Murray introduces his son Jamal Murray (2016, 7th pick of the Denver Nuggets) to basketball:

“My dad put a basketball in my hand and I’ve loved it ever since,” said Jamal. “I had a little tykes net from Walmart and I used to play on it every day and then I got a net in the backyard and I kept continuing.” – Jamal Murray, 9News.com

Jamal Murray with his dad Roger Murray

There was always a need for a change in the old Canadian basketball system. There was quite simply a lack of domestic opportunities for elite level competition, training and exposure specifically designed to prepare players to compete in the NBA. There were a handful of seemingly random success stories about Canadian players that made it to the NBA finishing high school in Canada but the one consistency is that they all played university basketball in the NCAA before being drafted to the NBA.

  1. Leo Rautins – St Michael’s College, Toronto, Ontario, U. Syracuse -Syracuse New York – 1983 17th Pick, Philadelphia 76ers

  2. Mike Smrek – Eastdale H.S., Welland, Ontario, Canisius College – Buffalo, New York – 1985 25th Pick, Portland Trail Blazers,

  3. Steve Nash – St Michaels H.S., Saanich, Victoria, British Columbia, U. Santa Clara – Santa Clara, California – 1996 15th Pick Phoenix Suns

  4. Todd MacCulloch – Shaftesbury H.S., Winnipeg, Manitoba, U. Washington – Seattle, Washington – 1999 47th Pick, Philadelphia 76ers

  5. Jamaal Magloire – Eastern Commerce H.S., Toronto Ontario, U. Kentucky – Lexington, Kentucky

  6. Joel Anthony – Westmount H.S., Montreal, Quebec, U. Nevada Las Vegas, Las Vegas Nevada – 2007 Undrafted, Signed with the Miami Heat.

  7. Denham Brown – West Hill CI, Scarborough Ontario, U. Connecticut – Storrs, Connecticut

Leo Rautins


Mike Smrek


Todd MacCulloch


Jamaal Magloire


Joel Anthony


Denham Brown


Steve Nash

Another commonality between these players was that each played for the Canadian National team which for the longest time was Canada’s only global platform for showcasing our nation’s elite. This has always been a huge problem because a whole country of talent vying for 12 precious spots on a national team didn’t always mean the cream would rise to the top. Prior to “the explosion of Canadian basketball” the Canadian National team was shrouded in a web of politics that would see shifts in the makeup of the national teams based on geographic regions and coaching staff. Claims of financial hardship gave excuses for limited invitations and opportunities. As the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame shows, the opportunities were not going to be given to inner-city athletes who had not taken the Canadian University route. With only two Black inductees, Sylvia Sweeney 1994 and Fred Thomas 1995 since 1978 Canada Basketball’s Hall of Fame does not reflect the large number of black immigrants that were grinding away and proudly putting Canada on the map at the ground level

THE NEW CANADIAN BASKETBALL SYSTEM

To understand the validity of the new Canadian basketball system we can start by examining Canadian basketball success at the NBA level starting with the 2011 NBA Draft with Tristan Thompson (selected 4th to Cleveland Cavaliers and first ever Canadian lottery pick) and Cory Joseph (selected 28th San Antonio Spurs) until now, with recent record breaking number of Canadians in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Tristan Thompson


Cory Joseph

Despite having great success at their respective high schools in Canada. Both Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph chose to leave high school in Canada and finish their prep years in America. The duo both eventually ended up at Findlay Prep, Las Vegas, Nevada, a perennial power at the high school level. Here the two friends and Grassroots Canada AAU teammates would accomplish what no other Canadians before them had ever done. They became McDonald’s All American, Jordan Brand All Americans among numerous other national recognition. From Findlay Prep they both accepted a scholarship to U. Texas where they spent 1 year before both entering the 2011 NBA Draft and both being selected in the 1st round.

They were so much a part of the American basketball system that if it wasn’t for them wearing a Canadian national team jersey every summer, the world wouldn’t even know their nationality.

Tristan Thompson and Corey Joseph

Before Tristan and Cory, many Canadian high schoolers had come close, taking the same route of leaving high school early to America, (Olu Famutimi, Kevin Massiah) but fell short of making it to the NBA. Cory and Tristan’s success on the AAU circuit, at a prep school in the U.S. followed by a tremendous season in the NCAA solidified them early as future NBA stars in the eyes of NBA scouts and General Managers. The new system had finally become a clear Canadian pipeline to the highest level of basketball in the world. When looking at the six 2019 NBA Draft picks they all followed the same blueprint:

  1. # 3 New York Knicks – RJ Barrett, – Mountverde Academy, Mountverde Florida, Duke U.,

  2. # 17 Nickeil Alexander-Walker, – Hamilton Heights C.A., Chattanooga Tennessee, Virginia Tech U.

  3. #21 Brandon Clarke, – Desert Vista H.S., Phoenix Arizona, Gonzaga U.

  4. #27 Mfionduka Bengele – Don Bosco Institute, Indiana, Florida State U.

  5. #45 Iggy Brazdeikis – Orangeville Prep Mono, Ontario, U. Michigan

  6. #54 Marial Shayok – Blair Academy, Blairstown New Jersey, Iowa State U.

In fact, almost all the Canadians selected in the NBA Draft have all played in the NCAA: All Time List of Canadians Selected in the NBA

UNDERSTANDING THE EPICENTERS OF THE IMPLOSION

There have been several cities in Canada that have produced top talent. However, the inner-cities of Toronto and Montreal have produced the largest number of elite prospects What is common in both these cities is that they have both always been bursting with an immigrant population of super athletes that had a hunger for the game of basketball.

“Starving for basketball in hockey-mad Canada, the brothers (Kris & Maurice Joseph) watched Michael Jordan’s ‘Come Fly With Me’ video over and over. And in the summer, when Maurice would report to a 7 a.m. workout with Wong, he brought along his little brother.” – Mike Waters, syracuse.com

Kris Joseph – 2012 NBA Draft 51st Boston


Maurice Joseph – Michigan State U. 1995-97

Today in 2019 Canada is now the top foreign country for players entering the NBA. The vast majority are the children of at least one parent that is a first or second generation immigrant and have roots in the Greater Toronto Area or Montreal. Jamaal Magloire (Toronto/Trinidad), Joel Anthony (Montreal/Antigua), Nik Stauskas (Mississauga/Lithuania), Anthony Bennett (Toronto/Jamaica), Tyler Ennis (Brampton/Jamaica) Khem Birch (Brampton/Jamaica), Andrew Nicholson (Mississauga/Jamaica), Chris Buchard (Montreal/St. Lucia), Cory Joseph (Toronto//Trinidad), Tristan Thompson (Brampton/Jamaica), Dwight Powell (Toronto/Jamaica), Denham Brown (Toronto/Jamaica), Jamal Murray (Kitchener/Jamaica), RJ Barrett (Mississauga/Jamaica), Andrew Wiggins (Vaughan/Barbados), Ignas “Iggy” Brazdeikis (Etobicoke/Lithuania), Luguentz Dort (Montreal/Haiti), Shaivonte Aician Gilgeous-Alexander (Toronto/Antigua), Justin Jackson (Toronto/Jamaica), Nazareth Jersey “Naz” Mitrou-Long (Mississauga/Trinidad) …

1980’s

To pinpoint the start of the implosion of the Canadian basketball system we would have to take a look at where and when the biggest change in the basketball culture took place. In the 1980’s Canadians were trickling across the border into the United States on a scholarship to

NCAA schools, mainly entering NCAA schools closest to the border.

  1. Wayne Yearwood (Montreal) – West Virginia U., 1984/87

  2. Dwight Walton (Montreal) – Florida Institute of Technology/Siena 1984-1987

  3. Trevor Williams (Montreal) – Southern U./St. Peters College 1984-1989

However, some of the biggest names of that era never got a chance to play in the NCAA or get international exposure. With the Canadian National team only fielding one team there was no other platform to expose potential Canadian professional talent.

1990’s

The 1990’s saw a surge in Canadian ballers Greater Toronto Area and Montreal getting recognized and heading south of the border on scholarship. Much credit is due to Phil Dixon who was hands down the brightest star of the era and was one of the greatest Canadian ballers of all time. Phil Dixon’s star power attracted dozens of NCAA coaches into the city including Hall of Famers Jim Calhoun, U. Connecticut and Rick Majereus, U. Utah into the heart of Toronto. Phil indirectly helped younger ballers like myself achieve our dreams of a scholarship. My coach Richard Ward and I spent many hours splicing together VHS video tapes with scotch tape to make my highlight tape and send it out to any NCAA schools that might be interested in recruiting and athletic Canadian guard. Despite all that effort, it was two schools that we didn’t reach out to, American International College and Eastern Michigan U. that on rumours of great talent in Toronto, came to my games and both offered me a full ride basketball scholarships. This was a pivotal time in Canadian basketball and the many stars of that era from across Canada. Many eyes south of the border were opened to the level of talent in the Greater Toronto Area and Montreal but it was still unclear to the world just how much talent and how high the ceiling was in these Canadian hotbeds.

Phil Dixon – U. Utah 1990-94


Wayne Dawkins – E. Michigan U 1991-93

THE IMPLOSION’S BEGINNINGS

Prior to the mid 1990’s. Canadian ballers had started venturing across the U.S. border in search of greater competition but only a few Canadian youth teams dared to go against the grain and compete mainly on American soil. Tony Marcotullio (H.B. Beal, London Ontario, Dave Smarts, Ottawa Guardsmen, Chris VanZyl and Wayne Dawkins (Prep Stars Canada). Chris and Wayne soon split and Wayne would partner with Saeed Al Naji to form Toronto Elite Development (Southern Ontario). The duo of Ro Russell and Bob Marsh brought many Toronto players to the U.S. together before splitting and Ro would form Elite Toronto Development (Toronto).

Dave Smart


Ro Russell


Tony Marcotullio