Basketball Canada struggles to keep its only ‘prep school.’
You grab 12 of the top high school players in Canada, put them in one gym, and what do you get?
It’s called NEDA—National Elite Development Academy, which can be compared to the top prep schools in America. This program gives student-athletes a unique opportunity to learn, mature and develop their skills both on and off the hardwood, with first-hand spokesmen to attest to its success.
Kelly Olynyk, a freshman at the University of Gonzaga admits, “I thought NEDA was outstanding. It was somewhere where you could play against the top players in the country everyday and improve your game by leaps and bounds.” In fact, Olynyk credits NEDA for his recent success, “Without it I don’t think I would be where I am today. It did so much for me and my game; I hope other kids get the same opportunity.”
The ‘08-09 roster saw five players commit to NCAA programs: Mike Allison and Murphy Burnatowski (Maine), Kelly Olynyk and Mangisto Arop (Gonzaga), and Roger Dugas (Elon).
As for the ladies, Natalie Achonwa (Notre Dame), Kayla Alexander (Syracuse), Kristine Lalonde (Vermont), Taryn Wicijowski (Utah), and Felicia Wijenberg (San Diego) are all products of the academy.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough to keep the program afloat. I was sitting-in on a NEDA boys exhibition game last April at McMaster University when the manager of Men’s Elite Performance, Andrew Cook, informed me that the academy would be folding.
With all the progress made in such a small time span, how can its recent collapse be explained? “Basically Basketball Canada lost a lot of their funding. It’s unfortunate; having a banking background, I understand how the economy was going,” confesses Tarry Upshaw, former assistant coach for NEDA.
Despite financial shortage, Upshaw has been able to revive the program, using a similar concept with the same approach. NEDA has now been condensed into what is called REDA, a regional elite development academy.
Participants pay a fee of $2500, a price which covers travel expenses, practices, games and hotel accommodations on the road. “My kid plays rep hockey and it cost me $5000 this year… and he’s 10,” Upshaw explains humorously.
Although REDA has been compressed, this program still remains as the only platform in Canada for up-and-coming talent to develop and expose their skills at an international level to major scouts and coaches throughout the basketball season.
In short, this academy is the only “prep school” in the country; competing against college teams in Canada and the top prep schools in the States.
This REDA squad features promising prospects such as 6-2 point guard Jahenns Manigat, 6-2 guard Ryan Augustine and 6-10 center Lucas Nugteren who will look to maximize their REDA experience to make it to the next level. Coach Upshaw explains his philosophy: “I want to see them grow from being players that had talent to players that are polished.”
Assistant coach Nate Philippe also professes, “I think the trend over the last few years [especially this summer] was our elite Canadian players going down to the U.S. for prep schools, but the reality is REDA is an opportunity for our elite players to stay home and get great exposure and attention from Division I coaches.”
Players participating in this program attend St. Mary’s High School in Hamilton, Ontario and some live locally while others have found a house to rent out. This builds team chemistry as well as arms these teenagers with responsibility for the next stage of their lives.
While funding has been an issue in the Canadian basketball system for years, Upshaw plans on taking it one step at a time to eventually bring back a national focus to the academy.
“It’s a project that I want to continue to grow. Eventually, if I can get enough sponsorship, I want to get it back to a full NEDA. That’s my goal, it might take a year, it might take two or even three years, but we’ll keep pushing.”