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Canadian high school trying to buck trend, perhaps start new one
REGENSBURG (David Hein's Eye on the Future) - Just an hour's drive northwest of Toronto, the Canadian high school Orangeville Prep is working hard to buck one trend and quite possibly start a new one.
Head coach Larry Blunt arrived at Orangeville Prep two years ago with the goal of helping keep elite Canadian high school players in Canada.
The Greater Toronto Area has produced a number of future NBA basketball players - just think Anthony Bennett, Sim Bhullar, Tyler Ennis, Cory Joseph, Andrew Nicholson, Kelly Olynyk, Nik Stauskas, Tristan Thompson and Andrew Wiggins. But Olynyk and Nicholson were the only ones of that group to spend their entire high school career in Canada, as Olynyk attended South Kamloops and the late bloomer Nicholson went to Father Michael Gomez.
Bennett, Joseph and Thompson all left Canada for the college preparatory school Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nevada while Bhullar and Wiggins attended the equally famous Huntington Prep in Huntington, West Virginia.
That group of players is only the Canadians from Toronto and it's just the tip of the iceberg as more Canadians are in the pipeline, ready to follow the Wigginses and Ennises and Bennetts into the NBA - from US high schools and then colleges.
That is the trend that Blunt is fighting.
Luckily, he and Orangeville got two stars to fall into their laps.
Blunt knew Jamal Murray, who played at the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship, from coaching with the Toronto AAU circuit team CIA Bounce. Murray, from Kitchener, Ontario about 100km west of Toronto, was considered a high level talent and certainly could have had his choice of US high schools to go to. But Blunt convinced Murray and his family to take a chance on Orangeville and stay in Canada for the duration of his high school career.
"I think at that point, it was unprecedented. I don't think there's a word big enough to describe how much of an impact that had on high school basketball in Canada," Blunt told Eye on the Future.
"Because to that point in recent years, everybody said you leave. But to his and his family's credit, a lot of people were in his ear saying what are you doing. If you go to the US you'll blow up. If you go to the US you'll be great. If you stay here you're not going to have those opportunities. He stayed the course, and a year and a half later the proof is really in the pudding."
Murray is being recruited heavily by most of the big colleges in the United States and his stock is rising on NBA Draft boards, especially after scoring 30 points in the 2015 Nike Hoop Summit - the second time he played in the showcase.
The second stroke of luck - or being at the right place at the right time with the right connections - was Thon Maker. The highly regarded South Sudanese-Australian was dominating the high school circuit in the United States but had to leave the US in August 2013 to renew his visa for immigration purposes. Instead of travelling all the way back to Australia, Maker, his younger brother Matur and their guardian Ed Smith decided to take the shorter trip to Toronto.
After the paperwork took longer than expected, Smith went looking for a place for Thon to train while they waited. Eventually he landed in Orangeville and the Athlete Institute because he knew Blunt from the Virginia basketball community.
"I think Thon fell in love with the facility, and he fell in love with the pace of life here. I think he fell in love with being isolated away from a lot of the hype and the things he was getting and it put him in a position where he could really focus on basketball," Blunt said.
Now with Murray and the Makers on board as well as other solid level prospects from the Toronto area, Blunt was ready to tackle an uber-tough schedule featuring a number of games in the United States against some of the best high schools in the US.
Orangeville took their lumps - mainly because of some difficult travel plans and playing all road games in the US - but Blunt was very satisfied with his team's 34-11 record for the season.
It still remains to be seen if Murray staying in Canada actually leads to a trend of elite Canadians staying at home. But Murray - and Thon Maker, for that matter - could become pioneers in another way.
Both are international players, meaning they are not required to attend college in the US before entering the NBA Draft. They only have to fulfil the NBA age requirement. So, in theory both Murray and Maker - born two days apart in February 1997 - could jump directly from Canadian high school to the NBA.
Of course such a move would be huge for Canadian high school basketball in general and Orangeville in particular, which had not even produced a US Division I college basketball player before Blunt's arrival. Three Orangeville players already have locked up Division I scholarships for US colleges and Blunt said as many as seven of the players could secure scholarships by year's end.
But having a player jump from Orangeville to the NBA would be another caliber entirely.
The thing is no one seems to know if the situation is actually possible. No one can seem to get a clear answer. Everyone involved says there is no precedent.
The closest thing seems to be Dante Exum, who decided to stay in Australia and not attend a US college and was eligible for the 2014 NBA Draft whereas if he had gone to college for one season, he would not have been able to enter the NBA until 2015.
If Murray and/or Maker jump to the NBA from Orangeville, then the doors of Blunt’s office will be bursting with people looking to get in - and get to the NBA a year sooner.
There are a lot of reasons to look at Orangeville at the moment - stayed tuned.
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