Grassroots Canada is just another example of the globalization of basketball.
The Canadian Express by Franklyn Calle
Globalization is defined as extending to other or all parts of the globe. In economics, it is the tendency of investment funds and businesses to move beyond domestic and national markets to other markets around the globe, thereby increasing the interconnectedness of different markets. NBA Commissioner David Stern has made such term a priority for the game of basketball over the past couple of decades, spending millions after millions in efforts to promote the game throughout the globe. He has definitely succeeded as the game is now creeping up on soccer as the world’s game. How far apart are they? Only time will tell. Yao Ming, Manu Ginobili, Andrew Bogut, Andrea Bargnani, Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash are all true testaments of just how much the game has become an international sport. All of the top Euroleague players have and will continue to make the NBA a favorable and prioritize destination.
In the process of globalizing the game, the United States has come to realize that the rest of the world is catching up in talent, skills, and athleticism. We started to get a sense that others nations had dramatically improved during the 2000 Olympics when Team USA won the Gold medal but didn’t quite dominate the tourney, defeating Lithuania in the semis by only two, 85-83, and getting by France, 85-75, in the gold medal game.
In the years that followed, we got even a better sense of how much the game had spread worldwide as Team USA no longer seemed to be so far ahead from the rest of the world. In 2002, Team USA finished in sixth place loosing to Argentina, Yugoslavia and Spain. In the 2004 Olympics, Team USA suffered their most lopsided defeat in a 92-73 loss to Puerto Rico in the first game of the tournament. The American would fall to Lithuania later on and eventually end up being knocked off the Olympics in a 89-81 loss to Argentina in the semis. USA finished with the Bronze medal after defeating Lithuania.
NBA teams also got to see the globalization of basketball first hand in 2005 when Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated the Toronto Raptors, 105-103. In 2006, FC Barcelona came out on top, 104-99, against the Philadelphia 76ers. That same year, the LA Clippers were whipped by CSKA Moscow, 94-75.
Last summer, more indications on globalization of basketball were visible as the NBA witnessed a mass exodus of their players crossing the ocean to play professionally overseas.
Carlos Delfino and Jorge Garbajosa left the Raptors
for the Khimki Moscow Oblast Region Basketball Club while Primos Brezec left the Toronto for Virtus Roma. Juan Carlos Navarro went from being part of the Grizzlies to heading over to play for FC Barcelona. Bostjan Nachblar and Nenad Kristic departed from the Nets for the Dynamo Moscow and Triumph Lyubertsy respectively. Josh Childress left the Hawks for the Greek’s Olympiakos. Earl Boykins signed with Virtus Bologna while Carlos Arroyo signed with Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Even the NCAA got a taste of it when Arizona-bound guard, Brandon Jennings, opted to go play professional basketball for Virtus Roma, becoming the first American player to do so coming out of high school. Shoot, Jeremy Tyler appears to be heading there before he finishes high school. The “American” AAU scene felt the effects of this globalization trend last summer when Grassroots Canada were crowned champions of the Las Vegas Adidas Super 64 Tournament, becoming the first non-American AAU team to hold the title in such a prestigious grassroots event as well as in American territory. For those of you that haven’t ever heard of the program, it has been around for the last 17 years. They have sent over 200 student-athletes to play ball at the collegiate level. They have a few seniors inked already to play college ball this fall. Junior Caudogan, a 6-2 guard from Christian Life Academy in Texas, has signed with Marquette. Jason Calliste, a 6-2 guard from Quality Education Academy in North Carolina, is head to the University of Detroit. Kadeem Coleby, a 6-9 center from Christian Life Academy in Texas, is signed with Louisiana Tech. They currently have 16 guys playing high school basketball in the United States right now. This summer, they are slated to have four players attending the Reebok All-American Camp and two attending the Nike Skills Academy. They will also have a few attending the NBA Top 100 Camp.
Founder and Head coach Ro Russell still remembers how his program came about like it was yesterday. “In 1992 I use to coach high school basketball up here in Toronto and at the time not a lot of division coaches use to come up here to see the guys the play,” Russell remembers. “We had some very elite players that were not getting the type of exposure that they deserved so I did some some research on the internet about going down to the States and attending some of the camps where the guys could showcase their talents in front of college coaches and against American players. There was not a lot of AAU going on up here at the time, so we went to some camps and the coaches liked our guys. Some of the camp directors said to me ‘Ro you should start a AAU program that way the guys could be seen and get that exposure they deserve,’ and that’s how Grassroots Canada started.”
But it took some time for the program to start having major success and receive recognitions for their accomplishments. “SLAM Magazine did a story on us about 10 years, I remember Stephon Marbury was in the cover. It was the first time a Canadian team got in SLAM. It was nice to be recognized like that for what we were doing in different AAU tournaments in New York, New Jersey, Philly, Baltimore, Michigan and so forth. That was the time we knew we had something going on and that we could actually compete, reach out and do some good things.”
He admits that Canadian kids have been keeping a close eye on the American’s style of play through the AAU circuit. “Toronto, where most of our top players are from, is more Americanized now. Many kids have been to camps. Kids kind of know the American style of play. Overall is not as intense and hard nose as America. So that’s why I think AAU is such a great opportunity and experience for the guys to play in the U.S. and get Americanized.”
After some time in the scene, Grassroots Canada finally got a major collegiate player onboard. “Damian Reid was probably probably our first major NCAA player. He was a 6-9 forward who went to St. Joseph’s(PA) and went to the NCAA tournament. We also had some other guys like Vidal Massiah who went to St. Bonaventure and Wayne Smith who went to Duquense. They wasn’t getting that big kind of exposure, they were going to good schools but not the top schools.” It wasn’t until 2001, when Grassroots Canada got a player into a big major NCAA program. Deham Brown joined Jim Calhoun and the Huskies program. He was ranked 18th in the country, went to the Final Four and won a NCAA championship in 2005. He got drafted in the second round of the 2006 NBA Draft by the Seattle Supersonics. “That’s when we feel we really came out on the map.”
Today, arguably the top high school junior in the nation is a member of the Grassroots Canada program. “Tristan Thompson is the first Canadian kid to be ranked #1 in America. He wasn’t getting a lot of exposure before he went to the States, so we wanted him to get that competition and extra opportunity. St. Benedict’s is a pretty strong program and voach Hurley has a pretty good reputation for working guys and winning. That’s why he went there, but they didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of different things. It sort of came a head in one of their games in January and after that coach decided that he didn’t want Tristan to be part of his program no more so Tristan transferred to Findlay Prep. It was just one of those things.”
At St. Benedict’s, Tristan shared the floor with Myck Kabongo. Just like Tristan, Myck is a Canadian native as well as a Longhorn-commit. The 6-2 guard is probably the quickest sophomore guard in the nation right now as well as one of the best all-around point guards. “He started out in our program in the 6th grade. We did a lot of research on who were the best guards in America and he had a goal set to be the best guard in his class. He is a big time competitor who has God given talent. At this point from what he has done at St. Benedict’s, in camps and at AAU tournaments, he has shown that he is one of the top players in the country and probably the best point guard in his class.”
“It’s really crazy how now there are so many top rated kids in America that come from Canada like Tristan, Myck, Dwight Powell and Corey Joseph. There are so many kids coming up the pipeline like Khem Birch, who we feel is going to be a top rated kid, Kevin Thomas and Wells Davis. We have a kid up here, Kurtis Ethier, who we feel can be a Steve Nash player.”
Powell is a 6-9 power forward currently attending IMG Academy in Florida. He is considering Marquette, Georgia Tech, Kansas State and Vanderbilt among others. Joseph, is a 6-3 guard at Findlay Prep in Nevada considering Kansas, Texas and Villanova to name a few. Both juniors are ranked among the top players in nation for class of 2010.
And as Russell explains, the future looks bright. “There are so many guys coming up the pipeline in different classes from 2010 all the way to 2013. There are so many kids that have set their sights high and see what other kids are doing and what others have done in America. There are so many kids out here that the whole article would have to be on the other upcoming players we have out here. It’s is so deep right now!”
As I said before, there are currently 16 Grassroots Canada members playing high school ball in the U.S.. “I think there is a big exodus of kids going to high school in the States right now. They want to experience that competition, that experience and exposure. As they go down to America, they will be all-state players, win state and national championships, be ranked and all that stuff. We are always going to be at the top of AAU programs and some of our guys are going to be household names, stay here, play ball and then go to college.”
He humbly acknowledges that it has been a team effort from the entire program to get where they have gotten. “The future looks bright and we have a bunch of great hard working coaches that are helping me out.” Especially a recent added member to the family. “Wells Davis is a businessman that recently came to our program as a coach. He has helped take Grassroots Canada to another level due to his business savvy, work ethic, the players he brought in and other contributions he made to the program.”
CANADIANS HUGE WIN RAISES PROFILE FOR HOOPS PROGRAM
By Victoria Sun, Special for USA TODAY - July 29, 2008
LAS VEGAS — In the midst of explaining what it means to be a part of Canadian amateur basketball history, Tristan Thompson was gently interrupted by one of his teammates, who wanted to remind him to utter the team's mantra.
"What (are) they (gonna) say now?" Thompson repeated proudly. "We just showed the U.S. that we've got basketball players in Canada."
No talking was necessary after Thompson's Grassroots Canada Elite team beat the Compton (Calif.) Magic in double-overtime 88-79 to win the adidas Super 64 tournament on Saturday.
By winning one of the three major AAU tournaments that ran concurrently here and defeating the Magic, one of the most respected programs in the U.S., the Canadians staked their claim in amateur hoops after years of being dominated by their American counterparts.
"We made a major statement," said Ro Russell, who founded the Grassroots program in 1992. "It's the biggest win in our program's history and Canadian amateur basketball history.
Thompson, Rivals.com's No. 2 player in the class of 2010, has verbally committed to play at Texas while point guard Junior Cadougan, ranked No. 21 by the Hoopscooponline.com in the class of 2009, has verbally committed to attend Marquette.
Thompson's decision was based on the fact that he got to watch Texas on TV and because of his recruiting relationship with head coach Rick Barnes and assistant Rodney Terry.
"I used to watch (former Texas and current Portland Trailblazers forward) LaMarcus Aldridge and I liked their style of play," tournament MVP Thompson said. "I liked coach Barnes and coach Terry.
"When you go on a visit to some schools, you're like, 'I don't know, it's all right.' But when I went to Texas, they treated me like family."
Russell's relationship with Marquette head coach Buzz Williams and assistant Tony Benford influenced Cadougan, who followed point guard Damon Stoudamire when he was with the Toronto Raptors
and is a huge Baron Davis fan.
"My top three choices were Wake Forest, Memphis and Marquette, but Coach Ro didn't really know the other coaches so Marquette was the greatest choice for me," Cadougan said.
Providing Canadian players with proper training, surrounding them with the highest level of competition and getting them the exposure they need to earn college scholarships are reasons Russell started the program formerly called Toronto Elite.
Russell, a Jamaican who moved to Toronto 35 years ago at age 4, was just like the kids he coaches today. He wanted to earn a college basketball scholarship, but had very limited support because ice hockey was the most popular sport.
Through his own research and networking, Russell played at Keene State in Keene, N.H., and Gordon College in Wenham, Mass. Once he finished competing, he returned home to Toronto to become a high school coach and founded what has developed into a fertile training ground.
Many Grassroots players have earned Division I college scholarships including highly touted guard Devoe Joseph, who will play for Tubby Smith at Minnesota this season, former Arkansas and current Canadian national team member Olu Famutimi and former Missouri swingman Duane John.
Russell's players have gotten more attention because he has been able to help them enroll at different American high school or prep schools via student visas so that they can be seen by more college coaches and play against much better competition.
Without enough exposure, Canadian Steve Nash, an NBA all-star and former two-time MVP, ended up playing at Santa Clara because no high-level Division I school recruited him.
"Steve Nash has shown us it is possible for us to play in the NBA," Thompson said.
Thompson will be a junior at famed St. Benedict's Prep (Newark, N.J.), coached by former Duke guard Bobby Hurley's brother, Dan Hurley, while guard Myck Kabongo will be a sophomore at St. Benedict's.
Cadougan will be a senior at Christian Life Academy in Waco, Texas, where former Texas A&M forward and current Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan attended, and Dwight Powell will be a junior at IMG (Bradenton, Fla.). Three other Grassroots players, Jason Calliste, Renaldo Dixon and Christian Kabongo, attend Mt. Zion Christian Academy in Pembroke, N.C.
Almost all of Russell's players are being recruited by Division I teams or at least being evaluated more closely.
"Ro Russell specifically has done an unbelievable job in elevating basketball in Canada," Williams said. "All of the best players in Canada play for Ro and his relationships with coaches in the United States have been beneficial in regards to helping those kids."
GRASSROOTS CHANGING THE FACE OF CANADIAN BASKETBALL (November 13/08 TSN)
When Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash won back-to-back NBA MVP awards in 2005 and 2006, Canadians were proud that one of their own could excel against the best the sport had to offer.
It's those individual accomplishments that have served as the standard for basketball in Canada, but those days may be changing thanks to the efforts of Grassroots Canada.
Under the tutelage of head coach Ro Russell, the Grassroots Canada Elite team won the Adidas Super 64 Tournament in Las Vegas this summer, beating the Compton (California) Magic 88-79 in double-overtime to win the tournament final.
Recalling the elite level of competition, Russell said, "It was the most grueling sporting event I've ever been a part of," comparing the intensity to the World Series or Super Bowl for those involved.
The win didn't come easily, to be sure, as Grassroots Canada roared back from seven points down in the final minute to force overtime.
That wasn't the first time that they had such a late rally, as Grassroots Canada came back from ten down late in the fourth quarter to beat Seattle Rotary in the quarter finals.
Climbing to the top of the heap in AAU basketball isn't easy. It's even harder for a program based in Canada.
Amateur Athletic Union basketball is where the best of the best teen basketball players compete in the offseason and so many of the big-name stars who are at the forefront of the NBA first made their mark along the AAU circuit.
When Grassroots Canada won the Adidas Super 64 tournament, it was a milestone that has been a long time coming.
When asked about the history of the Grassroots program, Russell recalls that in the early years individual players like Vidal Massiah (who played at St. Bonaventure) and Denham Brown (who played at Connecticut) could compete with the best, but it's taken some time for there to be enough depth of talent that a team could compete.
Russell recalled the 2001 Grassroots Elite team, led by Brown, beating Argentina then losing a heartbreaker to a Team USA led by current Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony.
But, gradually, the Grassroots program built upon each bit of success and when Devoe Joseph (University of Minnesota) led them to a tournament win in Pittsburgh in 2007, it was apparent to Russell that American teams finally realized that they couldn't bully the Canadian ballers.
The cornerstone of the 2008 Grassroots Canada team was Tristan Thompson, a forward who was among the most sought-after recruits in North America, before committing to the University of Texas.
A 6-foot-9 forward who models his game after former Longhorn, and current Oklahoma City Thunder star, Kevin Durant, Thompson is a native of Brampton, Ontario and transferred to St. Benedict's Prep in New jersey
to experience a higher level of competition.
ESPN's Scouts Inc. has Thompson listed as the number three overall prospect in his 2010 class.
According to Russell, Thompson has similar qualities, with a long, lean build, tremendous athleticism and a strong mid-range game. As he gets stronger and continues to develop, Thompson will need to extend his shooting range, but his physical skills are enticing enough to have NBA scouts already plotting his arrival.
Point guard Junior Cadougan, who will attend Marquette University, is ranked No. 65 in the 2009 class by Scouts, Inc. and the stocky guard has size, strength and maturity to make an impact early in his college career. He's currently attending school at Christian Life Academy in Humble, Texas.
Sharpshooter Jason Calliste, who was the team's leading scorer in Vegas, attends the Quality Education Academy in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Using contacts that he's cultivated over the last 17 years with Grassroots Canada, Russell tries to find situations that will allow the young players to "do their thing at a high level."
Russell sees basketball as a vehicle for these kids to achieve success in their lives, whether it means in college, the NBA or even outside of basketball. He indicates there is a two-fold reason for sending these players south of the border.
First, the move is in the best interest of the kids, whether it's due to a difficult home situation or simply the opportunity to improve the level of competition.
Russell says that Thompson, not surprisingly, was dominating Ontario high school basketball in Grade Nine, so it only made sense for him to test his skills at an elite level and he is now a junior at St. Benedict's.
The second factor -- and talking to Russell, this point comes across as extremely important -- is that the players get into a structured prep school environment where the distraction are limited so that players not only focus on basketball, but academics as well.
Teens that may not have necessarily been strong students find out that they actually can succeed in the classroom in the right disciplined environment, which only serves to breed more confidence.
Russell notes that, while many of his players benefit from playing against higher-level competition in U.S. High Schools, playing at that level also helps erase the stigma that a player is Canadian dominating against inferior competition.
When these Canadians are excelling against the best players of their age group, it doesn't matter to coaches or scouts what country is on the player's birth certificate, only that they are great players.
What is most exciting for the future of Canadian basketball is that the well isn't suddenly dry behind the likes of Thompson and Cadougan.
Point guard Myck Kabongo is rated 15th overall in the 2011 class by Scouts, Inc. and Russell refers to him as the "Canadian Sebastian Telfair" (a nod to the New York prep superstar who currently plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves) when talking about all the recruiting attention he's getting at such a young age.
Kabongo also plays at St. Benedict's with Thompson, following in what appears to be a growing path to success.
Dwight Powell is an athletic forward from Toronto who attends IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The Toronto native came off the bench for Canada Grassroots in Vegas, but Russell was impressed with how he maximized his production in the time he was given, attracting the attention of coaches and scouts.
Consequently, Russell has high hopes that Powell will be an impact player for Canadian basketball in the future.
Behind them, Grassroots Canada will be counting on a pair of 6-foot-8 forwards -- Montreal's Khem Birch and Calgary's Mitch Jacobsen.
It now appears that the program is strong enough to keep building on its success. Russell says that the younger players in the program are motivated to excel, for example, "when they see Tristan Thompson two feet in front of them in a practice drill."
The opportunity to practice with and against these elite players only helps to put younger Canadian players on the developmental fast track.
To enhance that development, Russell has brought in Wells Davis, who has outstanding coaching and business experience in the Ontario Basketball Association.
With the win in Vegas, Russell is excited that more and more people want to get involved with the Grassroots Elite program and he's counting on Wells to help facilitate growth in the corporate community in order to further the development of these talented young men.
Oh, and I almost forgot, they're Canadian.
Scott Cullen can be reached at email@example.com