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Ignas Brazdeikis (CAN)
David Hein's Eye on the Future
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Canadian youngsters shine bright around NBA All Star spotlight in Toronto

REGENSBURG (David Hein’s Eye on the Future) – The best of the NBA converged on Toronto this past weekend for the league’s annual All Star festivities. It seemed fitting that Canada got the big spotlight given how things are developing in perhaps the biggest basketball hotbed in the world.

And it wasn’t just the NBA All Stars who got a chance to shine in Toronto. Plenty of young basketball players from around the world – and especially Canada – did their best to steal a bit of the bright lights.

It started even before the bitter cold weather set in and the stars got into town as two of the country’s biggest high school powerhouses were in action on the same day in the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association – Orangeville Prep, who were facing Father Henry Carr; and Athlete Institute, who were at Bill Crothers.

While bad traffic kept Eye on the Future from attending the Orangeville game, there was time to catch AI Prep vs Crothers. And despite Thon and Matur Maker sitting out the game, it was a good one with Nicola Djogo’s three-point play late deciding it 88-86 for AI Prep.

It was disappointing to miss the Makers in action but Djogo was outstanding with 32 points, nine rebounds and six assists while AI Prep’s Cole Long collected 20 points, nine rebounds and six assists, showing why he’s the biggest thing to come out of Newfoundland since … well … I’m gonna have to pass. My Newfoundland history is a bit sketchy.

The game also saw one player continue his superb season Bill Crothers’ 1999-born Stefan Smith poured in 32 points and is slowly but surely playing his way into contention for Canada’s to-be stacked team for the 2016 FIBA U17 World Championship.

Speaking of the U17 Worlds, two players seemingly locked in for spots on Canada’s team in Spain this summer are playing at Orangeville, who returned to the court just days later in the Jordan Brand Invitational in Toronto – two games pitting Canadian high schools against prep schools from the United States.

Henry Carr was blown out by California school Redondo Union 97-72 but Orangeville played tough against highly-regarded US prep school Oak Hill Academy, losing 77-67.

Ignas Brazdeikis was fantastic for Orangeville with 28 points and six rebounds in the loss while Jaelin Llewellyn added seven points, two assists and two steals. Both are 1999-born players and both are considered locks to play in Spain this summer, where there will be extra motivation for Canada after losing to the United States in the 2015 FIBA Americas U16 Championship final despite leading by 21 points in the second quarter.

I think going to Spain we’re all going to be hungry after losing to the States despite the big lead. We’re all going to be locked in. I think we have a great chance to beat the United States or any other team. Brazdeikis

While Brazdeikis admitted he was a bit nervous seeing former Oak Hill star and role model Carmelo Anthony sitting courtside at the Jordan Brand double-header a night before the All Star weekend tipped off, the game was a homecoming of sorts for another player. Lindell Wigginton came to Oak Hill from Nova Scotia in Canada and he collected 14 points, five rebounds, three assists and plenty of cheers from the Toronto crowd.

Wigginton a day later joined fellow Canadians Abu Kigab and Shai Alexander in taking part in the 2nd annual Basketball Without Borders Global Camp – three days of NBA personnel past and present teaching 42 youngsters from throughout the world on-court and off-court skills and lessons.

It was a chance for the best of the world outside of the United States to see how they stack up against one another – and the competition was fierce even though many players used the camp to build relationships with other campers.

Wigginton and Alexander were the pride of Canada in making the Basketball Without Borders Global Camp All-Tournament along with France’s Frank Ntilikina and Olivier Cortale, DeAndre Ayton of Bahamas, Canada-based Thon Maker of Australia, Japanese Rui HachimuraOmer Yurtseven of Turkey, Tadas Sedekerskis of Lithuania, German Richard Freudenberg and MVP Harry Froling of Australia.

Many experts said that the French point guard Ntilikina was the most impressive player at the event.

The BWB campers also got the honor of seeing what they hoped was the future – taking in the NBA All Star festivities live – with some pretty good seats as German Richard Freudenberg tweeted from the Rising Stars Challenge game.

Canada was well represented at the Rising Stars game as Andrew Wiggins returned home to score 29 points and fellow Canadian Dwight Powell had 12 points and 11 rebounds for Team World. But Team USA won 157-154 thanks to 30 points from MVP Zach Lavine.

The Minnesota star Lavine put on a show for the ages a day later at the Slam Dunk contest along with Aaron Gordon.

Okay, I know, there were no Canadians in that one – and there were none in the All Star game either. And the focus was on the kids.

Alright, let’s finish strong then …

Those who came to Toronto ahead of the All Star party were rewarded with some good action and those who stuck around longer got a nice highlight too – unfortunately yours truly had to leave a day early.

Those two Canadian high school powerhouses – Orangeville and Athlete Institute – went at it against one another in what AI Prep themselves were calling the “Biggest Game of the Year”.

And Mr. Newfoundland stole the show as Cole Long could hardly miss in scoring 35 points for Athlete Institute in an 89-77 win over Orangeville. Playing without Djogo, Matur Maker collected 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists and Thon Maker had an off-night with 10 point and six rebounds in the win.

Jahvon Blair scored 21 points for Orangeville while those two 1999-born youngsters Brazdeikis and Llewellyn chipped in 13 and 12 points respectively in the loss.

Long, Brazdeikis and Co. showed that even without the NBA spotlight in town, Toronto remains a pulsating hotbed of hoops.

David Hein


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David Hein

David Hein

Walk into the media tribune of any major basketball event and there's a good chance you will come across David Hein. Having covered dozens of FIBA events, including numerous women's and youth events, there are few players Dave doesn't know about, and few players who don't know him. His sporting curiosity means he is always looking to unearth something new and a little bit special. David Hein's Eye on the Future is a weekly column digging out the freshest basketball talent worldwide and assessing what the basketball landscape will look like a couple of years down the line.