Heslip, Grassroots on Fire
Canada deserves respect from the ground-up.
Grassroots Canada, the herb which yields the basketball seed in the hockey hotbed of Toronto, has enjoyed a scintillating July in the NCAA’s open evaluation period. Several top-flight programs are beginning to dig into their pockets and pay attention to the AAU program that’s groomed a torrent of homegrown talent.
Johnny Flynn, Paul Harris, Denham Brown, and one-time NBA all-star Jamaal Magloire are prime examples area products who flourished in this Division-I launchpad. An influx of young talent turned heads at the recent First Eight and National Invitational Tournaments in Springfield, MA.
Spearheading Grassrooots was Brady Heslip, a gym rat and quick-strike three-point assassin who shot jokers out of the gym (not to mention shoe collector, as we covered in the SLAM 129 KICKS section). Heslip has long carried the tag of moneyball shootist. He spent his past winter scorching the nets at Burlington Notre Dame in Ontario. When he wasn’t on the hardwood, Heslip was traipsing the sidelines of Toronto Raptors games, kicking it with Chris Bosh. Heslip is the nephew of Raptors coach Jay Triano, the former Canadian professional.
“The phone has been ringing off the hook,” explains coach Ro Russell, the program founder and head coach. “The way he’s been shooting the ball, everyone is looking at him.”
Heslip served as a weapon of mass destruction down at Cincinnati, dropping 37 points during one pivotal matchup. Opponents tried executing a serious clamp down operation on Heslip, to no avail. They threw double and triple-teams at him. Heslip fended defenders off, reeling off a personal 17-0 spurt in one game.
“He was still on fire no matter what they threw at him,” Russell recalls. “He’s really starting to blow up. He’s like a Mark Price, Scott Skiles type player. He’s the last one to leave the gym, always. He’ll shoot all day. The kid absolutely loves the game.”
Heslip’s sharpshooting antics have elicited drool from a plethora of high major programs. Boston College, Clemson, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Miami, and Florida are all beginning to express interest in the 6-2 guard. Boston College has already presented a scholarship offer to Heslip, who’s entering his senior year.
Heslip is one of the many young guns that Grassroots Canada boasts. The program is hell-bent on staking their claim as one of the nation’s top programs on the AAU circuit. With the emergence of players like Dwight Powell, JP Kambola, Cory Joseph and Texas-bound Tristan Thompson, Canada is going hard (just ask Drake!).
“We want to show these kids that they have a chance to make their mark,” explains Grassroots coach Anthony “Huggy” Otto while sifting through text messages from his close friend Steve Nash. “We remind them of the work ethic and cool confidence that Steve Nash showed when he was coming up. We want to instill the same confidence in these kids and show them that Canada can evolve [into a basketball hotbed].”
Heslip averaged a thread over five three-pointers a game during the First Eight and National Invitational Tournaments, which were run by basketball. Top-tier coaches such as Rick Pitino and John Thompson III took in their games.
Heslip hit is high water mark in Springfield when he went off for eight treys in a game. He wasn’t the only Grassroots product dropping jaws. The aforementioned Kambola was one of the most fundamentally sound, finely tuned big men at the event. Kambola is being actively pursued by a number of big time programs—UConn, Seton Hall, Marquette, Rutgers, DePaul, and Virginia—to name a few. He turned in a triple-double Saturday with a balanced 12-point, 12-board, 12-block masterpiece before a surplus of coaches. The ultra-long 6-9, 230-pound Kambola sealed the basket shut by blocking nine shots in the first half during. Kambola punched shot attempts at will, manipulating and altering the trajectory of countless others.
Powell, a glossy-smooth 6-9 forward with a 4.0 GPA, is already considering Cal and Harvard as potential future hardwood homes. He speaks softly but carries a big stick on the court, ripping down boards and taking the soul of opposing big men. Though his post presence is his major selling point, Powell embraces the idea of being a jack of all trades.
“Personally, I like to consider myself someone who does it all,” said Powell, who plays at IMG Academies in Bradenton, FL. “Right now, I’m working on fixing up my jump shot, mechanics-wise. I’m also trying to develop better handle. My goals are to increase in those areas of my game and I’m sticking to them.” Lofty aspirations for a towering interior presence. Then again, would you expect anything less from this balling bookworm? He’s the kid who uses his high basketball IQ to create for his teammates, his athleticism and good feel for the game to block shots and finish with authority. A brain surgeon he may be, Powell’s also got the “touch of a surgeon,” to paraphrase legendary New York City prep scout Tom Konchalski.
Powell’s monster work ethic, high-order commitment to personal progression and winning places him in a different category. “At school, we play a tough schedule but we work a lot on just getting better,” said Powell. As far as attitude, immeasurable intangibles, versatility, and coachability, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone better than Powell.
Zach Smart has written for Big East Basketball Report, Hoops Addict and The East Coast Bias. Read more on his blog.