Basketball in Canada: The Athlete Institute Academy

Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Jamal Murray (Kentucky) greets NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the number seven overall pick to the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Jamal Murray (Kentucky) greets NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the number seven overall pick to the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

Basketball in Canada is growing at an exponential rate. Part of that success is due to the advent of programs like the Athlete Institute Academy just outside of Toronto, which has produced NBA players Jamal Murray and Thon Maker.

For many years, the only sport that Canadians had any hope of excelling in on an international level was hockey. Canada simply didn’t have the facilities, coaching or grass roots level organizations that were capable of producing athletes in any other sport; until now.

Basketball in Canada is now at a level where we are producing individual stars on the same calibre as our counterparts south of the border. In recent years, the NBA draft has been littered with Canadians, including the No. 1 overall pick in 2013 Anthony Bennett. The following year in 2014, Andrew Wiggins was taken No. 1 overall, followed by Tyler Ennis at No. 18. Then again in this past June’s draft, Jamal Murray was taken with the No. 7 overall pick, which was then followed by his former classmate at the No. 10 overall pick, Thon Maker.

Both Murray and Maker are products of the Athlete Institute Basketball Academy in Mono, Ontario about a 45 minute drive from downtown Toronto. The Athlete Institute Academy (A.I) is home to two of Ontario’s elite high school basketball teams; Orangeville Prep and Athlete Institute Prep.

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The A.I academy has a formal affiliation with Orangeville District Secondary School that sees players attend a full-time class schedule each day, and then practice and train at the academy before and after school. Both teams compete in the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association (OSBA), which sees them compete against other elite high-school programs including Father Henry Carr, Thornlea and Vaughan Secondary among others. To have a facility and program of this nature available to elite level athletes in the Toronto area is a major step in the development of Canadian basketball.

20 years ago, it was unthinkable that student-athletes in the GTA would have access to facilities, coaching and competition of this level. I remember watching highlights on City TV back in the mid-90s of Eastern Commerce star Jamaal Magloire dunking over top of players who were half his size and looked as though they didn’t belong on the same court as him. With programs like the Athlete Institute, a star like Thon Maker was able to turn himself into a top 10 NBA pick by competing against other players of his own calibre on a daily basis, right here in the GTA.

The advent of the Toronto Raptors in 1995 has really changed the direction of sports in Canada and specifically the GTA. In the 70s and 80s, boys across the GTA grew up wanting to be the next Daryl Sittler or Wendel Clark, but by the late 90s and early 2000s it was Vince Carter whose poster was on the bedroom walls of aspiring young athletes across Toronto.

“The Raptors being in town made professional basketball more accessible and made it more realistic that a guy could rise,” said Athlete Institute Prep head coach Chris Cobbina (who is a Toronto native).

“I’ve always said that Toronto and the GTA has had great athletes. The infrastructure of grass roots basketball has become a lot more organized, the training has become better and the exposure kids are getting has become better.”

Cobbina also says that the having a program like A.I has helped prepare his players not to be “shell-shocked” when they do head south of the border to play against Americans.

The A.I Academy was created in 2010 by current president Jesse W. Tipping, but its popularity has sky rocketed since 2014 when Tony McIntyre joined the fold as the Director of Basketball Operations. McIntyre is the father of NBA player Tyler Ennis and was the founder of the CIA Bounce program, which is a well-established club program that lists Wiggins and Bennett among its notable alumni.

In just the past three seasons, both Orangeville Prep and Athlete Institute Prep teams have produced multiple players who have received full scholarships at some of the NCAA’s most storied programs including Kentucky, Notre Dame, UNLV, and Tennessee to name just a few. Because of the success of its recent graduates, it seems that the word has gotten out about A.I with coaches from the NCAA now making regular visits to the facilities in Mono, Ontario. Jim Boeheim from Syracuse and John Beilein of Michigan both attended A.I practices within the past two weeks looking to pluck the next Canadian star to help their program.

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  • One of the main targets for their attention is 6-foot-8 forward Oshae Brissett from Mississauga. Brissett is listed on the ESPN Top 100 of high school prospects and has recently narrowed down his long list of scholarship offers to four schools: Syracuse, Memphis, USC and Oregon. 6-foot-3 guard Howard Washington Jr. will also have to pick from a long list, which include offers from Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Boston College.

    Anytime something new comes along that challenges an older way of thinking, it is natural that there will be critics of that process. However, when you compare the process of developing a young Canadian basketball player at a school like A.I, it is by far and away a much more appealing process than the one our elite young hockey players are subject too.

    Hockey players are drafted at age 15 or 16 and forced to live with a billeted family in some small Canadian town and are subjected to weekly 18 hour bus rides to play their games. Aside from the 1 percent who make the NHL, the rest will end up playing in low-level pro-leagues making $300 a week and left without any college education to speak of once their playing days are over.

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    The academy system is a vast improvement on our hockey system because the end goal of the majority of these athletes is to attend a university in the United States or Canada. When you explore how much a program like Athletes Institute has helped create a positive change in the landscape of Canadian basketball for the individual athlete in just a few short years, it can’t be long before Canada becomes a serious contender to challenge the United States on the world stage of basketball.