About 128 years after Canadian graduate student James Naismith invented the game of basketball, his native country reached its pinnacle in the sport in 2019. The Toronto Raptors claimed their first ever NBA championship. And then, the following week at the 2019 NBA Draft, six Canadians heard their names called—setting a record for the most players selected in a single draft from a country outside of America.
Yet, while everyone on the ground is excited about what has transpired this year, the response from locals is pretty much the same.
We’re just getting started.
There’s more where that came from.
Have you heard of Elijah Fisher?
Rated by many as the No. 1 prospect in the class of 2023, Fisher, a 6-5 wing, has begun capturing not only the attention of Canadians, but also of their southern neighbors.
“When people say I’m the best player in my class, I really don’t take that as anything because I didn’t really accomplish [anything],” says a shrugging Fisher. “I’m still walking over to the river. I need to get my feet wet. It’s just a journey that I just started.”
But in order for him to garner the same level of respect and notoriety as typical top-ranked hoopers, Fisher would need to do what almost every other top Canadian hooper has done: transfer to a school in the United States. The family says that under the current system, in order for a prospect to be eligible to participate in the prestigious McDonald’s All-American Game or be rated as the top senior on ESPN’s rankings, the player must be attending school in the U.S.
Yet Elijah Fisher has no plans of attending school in America. He isn’t interested in perpetuating the current system. The plan is to change it.
“I think that he could be a trailblazer for many different things that haven’t necessarily been done before. Like, for instance, him potentially being the first kid to be a McDonald’s All-American [despite] going to a Canadian school and even being on the ESPN rankings, which is stuff that is in the works,” says Elijah’s father, Rohan. “Him being able to change that will affect [other] kids.”
Starring at Crestwood Preparatory in the North York section of Toronto, Fisher’s played on the varsity squad since the 7th grade. He averaged 23.5 points, 8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2 blocks per game last season as an 8th grader, and his team almost pulled off an upset over American powerhouse Oak Hill Academy (73-71).
Crestwood schedules games against top U.S. schools regularly throughout the season. The Americans are well aware of the buzz coming from The North. Going into high school, Fisher has already picked up over 10 major college DI offers.
“These days I feel like the biggest obstacle I have to deal with is me being Canadian, ’cause not everybody looks at me the same. They look at me different, like I’m an alien or something,” says Fisher. “The Americans think that we are soft, that we don’t really come to play, no energy, none of that. That we’re just soft Canadians that will get pushed around. I want to change that narrative and make Canada something different. The mindset is to go down there and kill—kill everything I see on the court.”
To point out just how intense Elijah can be about hoops, his father recalls a specific story. At home one day, Elijah asked his parents if they could connect his phone to the charging port near them. As his mother, Thelia, walked over to plug the phone in, a message popped up on Elijah’s screen. It read: “You suck!”
She turned around and pressed Elijah for an explanation. Who could possibly be sending her middle school son a message like that? Elijah’s dad soon began pressing him for an answer as well. Their son knew exactly who the message came from but hesitated to explain at first. Eventually, seeing how bothered and concerned his parents were about it, he did so.
“He’s like, ‘It’s a message that I put in there to remind me that I suck.’ So he sent a message to himself that reminds him every day that he sucks,” says Rohan. “It was because of an event that he played in last year and he didn’t perform so well. And because they lost that game, he put a message on his phone to remind him. And to me that was like, wow, that’s real big of you. Like, where would he get such an idea to do that? What screws do you have to have missing for you to do something like that? So every time he looks at it, it’s motivation for him to get up and to keep working.”
Franklyn Calle is an Associate Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @FrankieC7.
Portraits by Geoff Fitzgerald.