HOUSTON — Five Canadians have suited up for the influential McDonald’s All-American Game over the past two years. Only three Canadians made the roster over the 32 years before that.
The recent surge in premier talent has opponents standing up and noticing, says Maurizio Gherardini, a member of Canada Basketball’s council of excellence and also the Raptors assistant GM.
“The quality of Canadian basketball is being proved by the quality of so many young players,” Gherardini told the Toronto Sun.
According to Gherardini, considered the most influential basketball executive Europe has ever produced, Canada is no longer a country that is overlooked in world basketball circles. In fact, it is growing into one to be feared.
“We have quality players (across different age groups). I’m lucky enough to travel the world and it’s amazing to perceive this buzz about Canadian basketball,” Gherardini said. “When we go around now, people aren’t asking who, or smiling ... They recognize the fact that there is talent.”
Including Montreal’s Khem Birch who absolutely went off against the rest of North America’s premier players on Wednesday night in Chicago.
Birch believed he could have been game MVP and so did most observers, after he picked up nine offensive rebounds in a 15 point, 10 rebounds, six block masterpiece, albeit for a losing side, which hurt in the eyes of voters.
Afterwards, Birch showed a swagger that Canada will need if it wants to go toe-to-toe with the top hoops nations.
“That’s what happens when people are doubting me,” he said, referring to scouts and bloggers who said he didn’t look good in the run-up to the McDonald’s game.
Gherardini said getting standouts like Birch involved with the program early (he excelled on Canada’s bronze-winning squad at the FIBA under-17 championship last summer) will be huge for Canada going forward. And getting a domestic league up and running wouldn’t hurt either (Gherardini says Canada is the only one of the top 40 basketball countries in the world without a domestic league players can join after completing their high school or college careers).
“Canada Basketball has to become a point of reference in the lives of young players,” he said.
“If you look at all the top players in the world you realize that playing for your country at the end of the day has been a key factor in growing in (their) entire career. Hopefully everybody understands that and hopefully Canada Basketball has a beautiful team for many years to come.”