For Canadian basketball fans, last night was a night to remember at the Jordan Brand Invitational at Maple Leaf Gardens.
For the two Canadian high schools involved in the Jordan Brand Invitational, it was a disappointing night with its fair share of lessons as both Father Henry Carr and Orangeville Prep fell to Redondo Union of California and Oak Hill Academy of Virginia respectively, in a double-header showcase at the Mattamy Athletic Centre Thursday night in downtown Toronto.
Both Canadian teams played hard, but the prevailing thought for each team was a lack of readiness to perform on the big stage, with media outlet TSN broadcasting the game nationally, and with a number of notable NBA players in attendance court side that were in town due to the upcoming All-Star festivities this weekend.
“This is different for us,” said Shamar Bailey, the senior forward for Father Henry Carr, following his team’s 97-72 defeat to Redondo Union. “I thought we would be fine, but it seemed like we came out scared and they came out hitting shots, that ultimately cost us.”
After Redondo Union began the game with a 10-2 run, they never looked back and the game was never really that close, with Redondo leading by as much as 38 in the second half.
As a matter of fact, the only ones who seemed ready to go on the big stage was the near capacity crowd who was unanimously for their hometown Toronto teams, and the mothers that were constantly cheering behind the media desk, regardless of the score.
Despite the loss, Bailey and his teammates seemed to have taken the experience in stride, showing an enthusiasm when discussing the game to the media scrums that you would rarely see from a team that had just lost by 25.
This wasn’t as much of a game to them, as it was an experience.
It was a measuring stick for Father Henry Carr, a school that despite its long history of recruiting is just starting to get its feet wet in consistent prep school play both here in Canada in the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association (OSBA), and across the United States in various tournaments.
Redondo on the other hand came ready to play from start to finish, and their experience on stages such as this paid off in spades.
“We got them to play our game, and we have had opportunities in the past to play in big showcases such as these and championship games,” said Redondo head coach Reggie Morris Jr. “You could tell they [Henry Carr] were a talented and well coached team, but I think tonight we got the jump on them.”
The experience for coach Morris Jr.’s team wasn’t lost on him either though.
“To get this many people out to a high school basketball game, it was really impressive,” said Morris Jr. “The Jordan brand people do a really good job of setting things up and we were just glad to be a part of it.”
Besides being impressed by the turnout, when asked about the possibility of returning to Canada for preseason and tournaments, coach Morris Jr. minced no words.
“For sure we would come back, the experience for our kids to travel internationally there isn’t anything like it,” said Morris Jr. “It’s an educational experience and the basketball is getting pretty good up here, and we would definitely love to come test ourselves.”
The second game of the night lived up to its billing of the main event, between newly arrived Orangeville Prep, taking on an established powerhouse in the prep school circuit in Oak Hill Academy.
This was a much more hotly contested game, as the size of Orangeville Prep’s Kalif Young and Eugene Omoruyi prevented Oak Hill from dominating the paint like Redondo did to Father Henry Carr.
Unfortunately a Canadian win just wasn’t in the plan on this night, as Oak Hill was able to counter every run that was made by the Orangeville team, and eventually came out on top with the 77-67 win.
Once again the prevailing thought for Orangeville was a slight case of stage fright at the start of the game.
“We aren’t usually used to this kind of atmosphere,” said Kalif Young. “But once we saw how much the crowd was behind us, it really allowed us to stay calm and remind ourselves that this is our home, not theirs, so we had every right to gain confidence from that.”
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The 6-foot-9 power forward that is getting looks from big time schools such as Duke, showed a number of moves in his game last night with some impressive up and under post moves, mid-range jump shots and a put back slam that shook the shot clock and camera above the backboard so hard it almost looked like they would both come crashing down.
Not to be lost on the night was Orangeville forward Ignas Brazdeikis, who led all scorers out of both games with an impressive 28 points on 11 of 23 shooting including five three pointers.
Much like his teammate Young, however, Bradzeikis spoke on the slow start that he felt ultimately cost them the game.
“It was a great experience coming into this event,” said Bradzeikis. “I think if we had not come into this game thinking ‘their Oak Hill, one of the best teams in the world’ and instead approached to playing them like any other high school team, we could have given ourselves a better chance to win.”
It will be that dynamic moving forward for all players, teams, and organizations in Canada to overcome if they hope to reach equal footing with the United States in these events.
The good news is that Canada has never been closer, and between the brand sponsorship, the turnout of fans, and the overall atmosphere and coverage this event saw last night, Canadian basketball has never looked stronger, more well-funded, and ready to take that next big step on the world stage.