Athlete Institute Retires Thon Maker and Jamal Murray’s Numbers

Nov 27, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Nuggets defeated the Suns 118-114. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 27, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Nuggets defeated the Suns 118-114. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

In Canadian hoops, few have achieved what Thon Maker and Jamal Murray have accomplished so far in their young careers. Tuesday night was yet another milestone for both players as they had their numbers raised to the rafters at Athlete Institute.

It’s not often a high school program, even a preparatory one, can be able to retire a jersey number. It is even rarer that you can hang up two numbers from the same team and years.

But when you are able to leave the legacy that Thon Maker and Jamal Murray have left on high school basketball in Canada, then you’re entering uncharted waters.

Let’s make one thing clear – neither of them were the pound-for-pound greatest high school players to ever come out of Canada. Andrew Wiggins to this point still has that crown.

But Wiggins, like so many before him, made what was a logical choice at the time to go to the United States for better competition, training, and exposure. All we could do back here in Canada was wish him well, as he became a superstar down south.

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These were options that were just as readily available to Murray, and one that Maker had already tried for, but found himself looking for more after two years states side.

Enter Athlete Institute, the program that Murray was with for his entire high school career and the school that came to the tip of every college and pro scouts tongue, once Maker arrived two years ago.

It was a marriage made in heaven.

Maker was already a mixtape sensation when he arrived in Orangeville with his brother Matur, and suddenly AI was no longer making calls for invites, organizers and schools were now calling them for games, a chance to see this seven-foot enigma in action.

The increased exposure gave many other players a chance to shine during the tours down south, while still wearing the maple leaf, and none took greater advantage of that than Murray.

As Orangeville Prep rolled into towns and cities all across North America during that first year, a pattern was beginning to take shape – people would come for Thon, but they would stay for Murray.

Maker would display his incredible hustle and occasional outside shot that have become staples for him in the NBA, but even back then there was no question who was more polished and prepared for the next level, and that was Murray.

Murray continues to show that even to this day, as he has now snatched up consecutive NBA rookie of the month honours for October and November, eyeing a three-peat this month.

You could very well make the argument that regardless of where Maker ended up, Murray would have been special, but that’s what has made this story so fascinating for fans and media alike.

The fact of the matter is that they accomplished so much in such a short time, all while operating from a home base north of the border. They did it representing Canada and none before them can say they did it at the level they both had for the one year Murray played with Thon, and the two years Maker had in Orangeville.

Not Steve Nash, not Leo Rautins, not even Jamaal Magloire.

Maker and Murray showed a brand new generation that success is attainable in high school right here in the GTA, that you don’t have to take a flight somewhere else to get noticed.

Now, the scouts and coaches take flights here to see you.

The message has certainly not been lost on the two new faces of Athlete Institute for this season, Ignas Brazdiekas and Syracuse commit Oshae Brissett.

“I remember Jim Boeheim sitting at this very table at the beginning of the season, telling me how much he wanted me to be a part of Syracuse basketball,” says Brissett, referring to a conference room table at the AI field house out in Orangeville. “It was surreal to hear one of the all-time great coaches of the game saying that to me.”

Brazdiekas felt a similar way, having the chance to play both with and against Maker and Murray back when he was fighting for minutes as an underclassmen.

“Just seeing what these guys were able to accomplish by going to the NBA, it was just such a huge moment for all of us that are still back here,” Brazdeikas said. “It really showed us just what kind of levels we can reach if we keep pushing ourselves and each other.”

Fittingly, Brazdiekas and Brissett had a chance to face off against one another following the ceremony and put on a display that would of made both Maker and Murray proud to know the legacy they left at AI is in very capable hands.

Eventually, Brazdiekas and Orangeville Prep would get the bragging rights for the night against their A.I. Prep brothers, handing them their first loss of the OSBA season and taking sole place of first in the league with a 95-92 win.

Roger Murray, Jamal’s father, was on hand for the game and felt a similar way for Canadian high school basketball in general when asked about it afterwards.

“We really have to believe in what we are doing to stay in Canada and still get to where we need to be, so there is a lot of pride in seeing the support that comes with it now,” said Murray.

Next: OSBA Week 5 Highlights

As Murray and Maker’s numbers now hang from the rafters, proof that the grass isn’t always greener on the south side for high school hoop dreams, it is safe to say that support is here to stay.