NEW YORK — For the past several years, Canada has been losing some of its top prep basketball talent to American powerhouses like Henderson (NV) Findlay Prep, Huntington (W.V.) Prep and Newark (N.J.) St. Benedict’s Prep.
Anthony Bennett, the No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA Draft and Tristan Thompson, the No. 4 pick in 2011, both finished up at Findlay Prep.
Andrew Wiggins, the presumed No. 1 pick in 2014, graduated from Huntington Prep.
And Syracuse freshman point guard Tyler Ennis concluded his prep career at St. Benedict’s Prep, following Thompson and fellow Canadian Myck Kabongo, who both spent time there.
Now, however, a new Canadian prep school called Athlete Institute in Orangeville, Ontario has launched, and head coach Larry Blunt says the goal is to keep some of Canada’s top talent North of the border.
“The trend with some of the more elite Canadian kids [is that they] have had a desire to go to the U.S. because they can play what they perceive as a better schedule and get more exposure internationally,” Blunt told SNY.tv in a phone interview.
“So our goal is to duplicate that experience and give Canadians an option where they do not have to go to the U.S. and come home on the weekend and spend time with their family, and still get to play that same level of schedule.”
Blunt, who also works as a coach with the CIA Bounce AAU program, does not want to officially name the roster until later this month, but CIA Bounce coach Tony McIntyre told SNY.tv that young Canadian stars from the Classes of 2015 and 2016 like Jamal Murray, Jalen Poyser, Nevell Provo, Jelani Mofford and Josiah Riley will be among those at Athlete Institute.
Poyser attended Findlay Prep last year and Provo was at Huntington Prep. The others attended Canadian schools.
Blunt declined to reveal the schedule yet, but said the team would play top American teams in an effort to enhance competition.
“Yes, we’re working to put together an international schedule playing against some of the top-tier teams in the United States,” Blunt said.
“We’ll play a very competitive schedule and our goal is to play teams that are nationally ranked and have a chance to compete with the best of the best.”
Mark Poyser, Jalen’s father and a CIA Bounce coach, said the schedule was a big reason he decided to bring his son home from Findlay Prep.
“I believe in what we’re trying to do here in the Athlete’s Institute. As a coach with CIA Bounce, we’ve always said, ‘Man, what would happen if all the talent that left ever stayed home?’” Poyser said.
“When this opportunity came on and I knew they were going to play a national schedule against the the St. Benedict’s, the Findlays, the Our Saviors, whoever they’re going to play, I’m like well, ‘Why not? Why not bring him back home. He’s going to play a national schedule, he’s going to play top competition just the same.’”
McIntyre, who sent his own son, Tyler Ennis, to St. Benedict’s, said the goal is not to keep every Canadian player at home, only those for whom it makes sense.
“Every kid has a different situation so it’s gotta meet their need and it’s gotta meet the need of the institute,” he said.
The players will attend Orangeville District Secondary School — which McIntyre said has been around for “30-plus years” — and compete for the prep team which will be associated with the school.
Athlete Institute is owned by the Tipping Family, which also owns a franchise in the National Basketball League of Canada (NBL).
“The team in its first year is going to be pretty good,” McIntyre said. “It’s a pretty good reflection of the talent at that age.”
Murray, a 6-4 2016 guard, may have the biggest upside of the players in the group.
He is being recruited by Michigan, Syracuse, Illinois and Louisville, among others, and was named MVP of the Jordan Brand International Game this past April in Brooklyn.
“He’s still really young,” McIntyre said. “We said it last year before the Jordan game, the kid is special and he went in there and did what we thought he would and on a pretty big stage in terms of no one knowing who he was and walking in there and stealing the show.
“His body’s getting bigger. I think he’s going to end up being a 6-5, 6-6 point guard when it’s all said and done. He’s 2016 and he’s already 6-4 and a bit. He shoots the ball extremely well and he’s versatile. He can play the 1,2 and 3.”
Roger Murray, Jamal’s father, said he decided to send his son to the school — which is about an hour and a half from their home — for a mix of athletics and academics.
“Basketball-wise, the facility is great. And that’s what he’s looking for, somewhere he can concentrate on his academics and train at the same time more intense,” Roger Murray said.
“Basketball-wise, going to the States right now…it’s five hours, six hours away. It’s hard to keep track of everything that he needs.”
As for the 5-11 Provo, he made the switch from Huntington Prep — where Wiggins starred last year — in part to be closer to home and also because he will get more playing time.
Huntington Prep added Gonzaga-bound point guard Josh Perkins, and Provo would’ve played behind him.
“Basically I sat down with my family and weighed my options,” Provo told SNY.tv contributor Mark Bairos. “We decided this was the best move for me. Huntington is a great program with lots of exposure, competitiveness in practice, and all the perks of a high-profile prep school. However, Orangeville was better for me because I’m able to gain that in-game experience, and become a leader of a team; something I need to take my game to the next level”
Huntington Prep’s Rob Fulford told Bairos of Provo: ”Hopefully, the project they have started up there will work out for them. I am happy for Nevell and will continue to support him.”
Still, all is not lost for Fulford and the American coaches.
Fulford will still coach Canadian star Montaque Gill-Caesar, whom McIntyre has compared to Andrew Wiggins.