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.”

He also admits that the proximity to the U.S. has given them tremendous advantages and opportunities. “Being that were are so close to America, we are sort of mimicking what the Americans are doing, learning the game, doing some research, training, and slowly catching up. I think the Americans are right now trying to keep that distance and advantage.”

Russell doesn’t mind seeing his kids attending high school in America. “Because it’s a hockey country, I think it is probably good for a lot of the top players to go to the States to get that competition, experience, that coaching, opportunity, that feel and exposure to see how far they can go. I welcome that opportunity and I see it as a something that is going to continue to happen in the future.”

He also admits that some big changes need to be made in Canada so that kids no longer would feel the need to come to the United States to play ball. “I think the only way that could happen is if government and the government basketball body makes some drastic changes and put money in the system for camps, academies, to train kids from young and put a lot of money for programs for exposure and better competition. So I think that until some things change in the system, kids will continue to go to the States for the competition and the opportunity.”

Russell’s message to the rest of the AAU circuit is clear. “Grassroots Canada is here to stay. We have proven that we can hang with the big boys and we are going to continue to do so. We are looking forward to defending our title at the Adidas Super 64”

So don’t be surprise if a team full of Canadian kids go around beating up on some American grassroots teams this summer in a tournament near you, because you been warned. The Grassroots Canada program is serious.

AAU Greats

Devoe Joseph
Olu Ashaolu
DJ Wright
Marvell Waithe

Additional Elite Phenoms

2013 6-5 Mikyle Mcintosh,
2012 6-9 Stefan Jankovic
2013 6-1 Miqueel Martin
2012 6-4 Nik Stauskas
2012 6-9 Mitch Jacobsen

Some Grassroots Canada Alumni

Marlon Pompey- Texas A+M
Olu Ashaolu- Louisiana Tech
Ashaolu, John- New Orleans
Kern Carter- St Bonaventure
Ayodele, Michael- Florida A&M
Terry Licorish- Mississippi State
Anthony Ighodaro- Moberly CC
Devoe Joseph- Minnesota
Imad Qahwash- Central Arkansas
Burke, Ashanti-Fordham
Sam Ashaolu- Duquesne
Tyrone Edwards- Hillsdale College
Clarke, Liviti- Robert Morris So
Clarke, Shaun- Hillsdale College Jr
Clifford, Chad- St. Francis PA
Daley, Steveroy- St. Francis PA
Alex Zimnickas- Hartford
Andre Riley- Maine
David Radinivic- Idaho
Milan Azanjic- St Francis(PA)
Antwi Atuahene- Arizona State
Andre Wilkins- Cornell
Faulknor, Jason- Bradley
Ferguson, Jeffrey- Missouri
Dwight Lauder- Bethune Cookman
Denham Brown- UConn Drafted by NBA Seattle Suprsonics, 2ND ROUND 2006
Gill, Shami Washington St. Fr
Emmanuel Tekkie- Pickville College (KY) So
Hamilton, Brian- New Orleans
Yankuba Kaba- St Bonaventure
Tshing Kasamba- Chicago State
Hunter, Andrew- Sacred Heart
Ronnie Williams- Mercyhurst College
John, Duane- Missouri
Alex Sazanov- St Joe’s
Jones, Dwayne- La Salle
Juevol Myles- Tallahassee CC
Adrian Pryce- U of Maryland Eastern Shore
Chaka Harris- U of Maryland Eastern Suore
Olu Famutimi- Arkansas
Massiah, Vidal- St. Bonaventure
McCall, Jeremy- High Point
Mike Luby- Salt lake CC
Yonas Berhe- Louisiana Tech U
Amen Asayaonde- NW CC(WY)
Miller, Marlon- St. Bonaventure
Milson, Kareem- Toledo
Dj Wright- Salt Lake CC
Marvell Waithe-Talahassee CC
Shamar Coombs- Texas CC U
Noel, Andre- American International
Jemino Sobers- Cent. Connecticut St.
Potter, Derek- Oregon State
Radinovic, Velimir- Ohio State
Vlad Kuljanin- UNC- Wilmington
Reid, Damian- St. Joseph’s (PA)
Riley, Andre- American International
Tyrone Bramble- Moberly CC
Ruddock, Elton- St. Bonaventure
Alex Johnson- Cal State Bakersfield
Nem Stankovic- Chicago State
Kris Douse- Delaware State
Smith, Wayne- Duquesne
Jermaine Anderson- Fordham
Dobre Mavrak- Palm Beach CC
Ulmer, Carl- St. Francis PA
Jamie Mcneilly- New Orleans
Dwayne Smith- GWU
Juevol Myles- Tallahassee CC
Dean Walker- Central Conn State
Wilson, Kyle- UMass
O’neil Kamaka- St Mary’s
Javari WIlliams- Hutchinson CC
Curtis Trotter- Georgia Perimeter CC
Akin Akinbola- Clemson
Stevan Marcetic- Cornell
Paul Harris- Syracuse
Jonny Flyn- Syracuse
Tyrell Lynch- UMass

Grassroots Canada Elite AAU
2008-2009 NCAA D1 Signings and Commitments

Junior Cadougan, 6-1, SR, PG, Christian Life Academy(TX), Marquette
Kadeem Coleby, 6-9, SR, C, Christian Life Academy(TX), Louisiana Tech
Rob Gagliardi, 6-2, SR, G, Pickering HS(Canada), Canisius
Alwayne Bigby, 6-5, SR, WG, Eastern Commerce(Canada), Northeastern
Tristan Thompson, 6-9, JR, WF, Findlay Prep(NV), Texas
Myck Kabongo, 6-2, SO, PG, St Benedicts(NJ), Texas
Jonathan Tull, 6-3 SR G Pickering(Ajax), Central Conn. State

AAU Coaching Staff

Ro Russell
Wells Davis
Anthony Otto
Nate Philippe
Nick Thomas
Donovan Gordon
Chris Smalling
Delroy Williams
John Ashaolu