The Indianpost

Canuck basketball players shine

They didn’t sing “O Canada” here Wednesday night to start the McDonald’s All-American high school basketball classic.
But the sellout crowd at the United Center left knowing that Canadians have game.

Four minutes into the contest, Canadian point guard sensation Myck Kabongo led his three-man Canadian contingent into the game and quickly set the crowd abuzz with a dazzling assortment of playground moves.

But it was Montreal’s Khem Birch who popped four quick points, and ended the night top scorer for the losing West squad with 15 points, 10 rebounds and six blocked shots, not to mention altering many others in an impressive performance.

The 6-foot-9, 225-pound forward has impressed scouts with his raw talent and tremendous athleticism. But he has been tentative in practices here this week after he was poked in the eye Monday.

“People were doubting me, saying I wasn’t showing nothing,” Birch said after the game, won by the East squad, 111-96 before the largest crowd ever in attendance to watch the McDonald’s All-American game, now in its 34th year.

“I was playing hard. I did the scoring all by myself,” he said, meaning his points didn’t come from set plays, but from rebounds and scrambling for loose balls. He challenged and changed many shots on the defensive end and displayed the unrelenting motor scouts have raved about. Many such scouts were on hand this night, as well as 19,909 fans.

Birch, 18, has a scholarship to attend University of Pittsburgh next year. He said here this week that he just recently picked up basketball, after playing football as a wide receiver all his childhood.

He promised he will get better, much better, as he picks up the nuances of the game. Pittsburgh, he said, is in for something special when he joins the NCAA team next season.

The other Canadian in the game, Kyle Wiltjer, scored 11 points, grabbed two rebounds and had one blocked shot. He even uncorked an old school hook shot to go with a long trey.
Kabongo, who went into the game hoping to set an assist record, fell far short. He had two points, six rebounds and as many turnovers as assists, at six each.
For the second straight year multiple Canadians made it to the game that showcases the top 24 high school players in the United States. Last year, Cory Joseph and Tristan Thomas played. Prior to that, only two Canadians have ever made it to the game that has featured basketball greatest stars.

For years, few selectors would look to Canada to bolster a squad of international basketball players to take on the powerful Americans. That was then. Canada may soon be able to take on the Americans all by herself.

“It’s great for the game around the world, outside the U.S.,” said Rowan Barrett, former Team Canada hoops star, now director of youth and player development for Canada Basketball.

Like senior men’s coach Leo Rautins, Barrett could barely contain his enthusiasm over the future of Canadian basketball.
The All-American game is where future legends come to show their high school game before heading to a Division 1 college team, and the National Basketball Association: LeBron, Kobe, Shaq, Carmelo, Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett all played in this game. . .

Kabongo says he, Thompson and Joseph (both now play for University of Texas and Kabongo joins them next year) have been dreaming about joining the elite circle of players since they were kids playing in local Toronto area leagues.

“We just want to do it big for the country and the city of Toronto. We want to represent the city of Toronto and make them proud. We have a dream. We want to go to the NBA. We want to win a national (U.S. college) championship. We want to push ourselves to compete at the highest level.”

This new brand of Canadian ballers is nothing like your father’s teammates. These kids are weaned on nightly NBA games, multiple exposure to U.S. college games, unlimited access to basketball online and a growing appetite to pursue the game as a source of a free education or riches as a professional.

“When I dreamed to play in the NBA it was really an unrealistic dream,” Rautins said here Tuesday. He made it, drafted in the first round by the Philadelphia 76ers. But there were few footsteps showing the way. The Kabongos, Wiltjers, and Birchs have Rautins, and now, a flood of role models blazing a trail.

“These kids can feel it, touch it,” Rautins says. “They see others doing it. They think, ‘We belong there. I need to be there, too’.”
Kabongo said he modelled himself after Juniour Cadougan, an Eastern Commerce alum who left for Marquette, where he played in this year’s March Madness tournament as a junior. And if he had any doubts he could be a member of the very best squad of high school players in America, Thompson and Joseph erased that last year.

“A kid will be watching us play in the All-American game (to be aired on TSN2 Thursday at 4 p.m.) thinking they can be just like us,” Kabongo says. “There’s somebody watching who will be better than us.”

As he spoke, his little brother, Johnathan, stood close by.
I hear you think you’ll be better than your brother, a reporter asks. The 11-year-old didn’t flinch.
“Way better,” he said.
For that to happen, Jonathan will likely head south to the U.S. like scores of Canadians. Competition in Canada, especially for the taller players, is not enough to develop elite talent.

But every time a player leaves it dilutes the competition further.
Rautins and Barrett say Canada Basketball is embarking on a training and development program aimed at targeting and identifying good talent early and trying to cultivate the game at home.

Comments are closed

Photo Gallery




Log in | Designed by Connect Pacifica