They were the kind of plays that usually make the crowd go wild.
There was Dillon Brooks, a six-foot-seven small forward, grinding in the post when out of the corner of his eye he saw Jamal Murray slashing to the basket to feed him for the finish.
A moment later it was Murray, a six-foot-five point guard, hitting Brooks for a well-timed pass on a pick-and-roll that Brooks finished it at the rim.
Except the many in the crowd in Brampton—the heart of Canadian basketball at the moment—didn’t go wild. A good chunk of them barely moved a muscle other than to exchange a knowing glance with their peers.
Don’t mistake the silence for indifference, however. The occasion was the fifth annual CIA Bounce exposure camp this past weekend, an opportunity for NCAA schools to watch nearly 160 of the best athletes the talent-rich Greater Toronto Area has to offer.
There were representatives from 66 schools on hand by the count of Tony McIntyre, the co-founder of CIA Bounce, which has emerged as one of the most potent youth basketball clubs in North America. A few summers ago it was Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett and Tyler Ennis—all-first round NBA draft picks—running the floor as U.S. college coaches watched as part of the recruiting process.
Now Bennett—taken first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2013—and Ennis—No. 18 by the Phoenix Suns this year—are among the Bounce alumni back to watch the next generation of dream chasers while the U.S. college coaches are back too, trying to catch the next wave.
“This is my second year in a row being here,” said Yanni Hufnagel an assistant coach at the University of California, Berkeley and considered one of the top recruiters in men’s college basketball. “This is a must-stop for me… the growth of basketball in Canada has been mind-blowing in a lot of ways and it will continue to grow. There are a lot of good players here, they’re here under one roof, and to be able to lay eyes on a lot them at once makes a lot of sense.”
Brooks tore up the field at the U18 FIBA Americas championship in June, helping Canada earn its first silver medal at the event while leading the tournament in scoring with 25.2 points a game.
Originally from Mississauga, he played his high school basketball at Findlay Prep in Las Vegas and will finish at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire this year.
He appreciates the irony that after years of Canadian basketball players feeling the need to take their games on the road, it now seems that all roads lead to Brampton.
“It feels great to be back and playing in familiar surroundings and now the coaches are coming to us, it’s a blessing,” says Brooks.
Murray, from Kitchener, Ont., leaves with the national U17 team for the Cadet World Championships in Dubai on Monday, but not before he took the chance to justify the growing buzz about his cool, collected, on-court demeanour.
“It means a lot to have them come all the way here just to see us play,” said Murray, who is reportedly drawn interest from elite U.S. programs such as Illinois, Syracuse, Virginia, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State, among others. “But you don’t try and over-think anything. You just go and be you.”
Increasingly that has been more than enough for Canadian players. It’s a big change. When Steve Nash and Jamaal Magloire were making their way to the NBA they were outliers. Each of them found a way to get on the radar of college recruiters and eventually be drafted.
But that there was a gap of 11 years between Magloire being drafted No. 19 in 2000 and Tristan Thompson being drafted No. 4 by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2011 indicates that the pipeline from Canada to elite U.S. college programs—the type that churn out NBA prospects—wasn’t quite in place.
Nash was even more of an oddball in that he didn’t have a size advantage—there has never really been a shortage of six-foot-three basketball players—when he was taken No. 15 in 1996.
In his ascendance he stood alone for a long time, until suddenly there seems to be a flood of Canadian players at the skill positions—Cory Joseph, taken No. 30 in 2011 by the San Antonio Spurs; Nik Stauskas at No. 8 this year, Ennis at No. 18 and more on their way, if Murray is any indication.
The difference is that now Murray can reach out to and sweat against guys who have made the NBA. He made a point of saying hello to Ennis when he arrived at the gym Sunday—they’ve worked out together. He’s scrimmaged against Wiggins. He’s been the MVP of the Jordan Brand International game and starred at the Nike Hoop Summit this past April, in addition to leading Canada internationally. He knows what NBA players train like, and that it’s not all that different from the way he does things.
“Eventually, hopefully, as a long-term dream I’d like to be where they are,” says Murray, who will attend the Athlete Institute Academy in Orangeville for the second year this September. “As I play with Tyler, as I play with Wiggins, I see what the game is like and how much better they are at what they do. But I think that I can be just as good as them, or even better.”
The Canadian basketball secret is no more and the scores of U.S. coaches who made their way to Brampton on the weekend in silent appreciation was just further proof.