TORONTO – Paul Melnik didn’t see this coming.
The 45-year-old has been coaching basketball at Father Henry Carr Catholic School in Toronto for more than a decade and has seen some big Canadian names come through his program.
But he never thought the popularity of the game could grow to the point that a high school all-star event would be nationally televised and attract both local celebrities and more than 50 NBA personnel.
Yet that was the reality at the Mattamy Athletic Centre Tuesday night, where 24 of Canada’s top high school ballers took to the court for the first ever BioSteel All-Canadian Basketball Game.
“If there’s anything I’ve learned from Tony McIntyre it’s that if you want to be a success story you have to dream first,” said Melnik, who was one of the all-star team coaches Tuesday.
McIntyre, who's best known in basketball circles as the co-founder of the Brampton-based grassroots program CIA Bounce, worked closely alongside Jesse Tipping, the president of the Athlete Institute Orangeville Prep program, to put the event together and feels the game gives Canadian players a real chance to showcase their talent on home soil.
“I think it’s great. It’s something that we really needed here and it’s something that our kids really needed,” said McIntyre, who’s played a large hand in developing some of the biggest names in Canadian basketball including Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Tristan Thompson.
“Obviously with the McDonald’s [All-American] game and the Jordan [Brand Classic] game, there’s a platform for American kids and we needed to create that here and give all 24 of our kids the chance to showcase their talent.”
They were all given that opportunity Tuesday and it was Jamal Murray who stole the show.
Though his “white team” fell 99-95 to the “red team,” the 6-foot-5 point guard put forth an impressive performance, dropping 29 points while adding 10 assists and eight rebounds.
He and his Orangeville Prep teammate Jalen Poyser, who finished with 19 points, were named the game’s two MVPs while highly touted, seven-foot prospect Thon Maker struggled from the floor finishing with just eight points.
“Jamal is a special player,” said Thon Maker, who also played for Orangeville Prep this season. “We probably had the hardest schedule there is, yet he’s found ways to come out and perform . . . and consistently, day in and day out.”
Murray may be the next big name in Canadian basketball, but he’s taken a much different route than the majority of elite players who’ve come before him. Rather than heading to the U.S. in grade 10 or 11, which has become the popular move for Canadians, the Kitchener, Ont., native decided to go to school in Orangeville.
The decision gave the 18-year-old a chance to both stay close to home and compete against some of the top prep schools south of the border.
And based on his individual accomplishments, it seems staying in Canada has hardly affected his development.
“He’s phenomenal,” Melnik said of Murray. "It’s almost like he sees the game in slow motion. He’s almost picking you apart as he’s bringing the ball up the floor, he’s attacking on the dribble and he either finishes or puts the ball right on the money for his teammates . . . He made some shots where I was left looking at the assistant coaches saying, ‘wow this guy is for real.'"
Tuesday’s game was about more than just a highly touted prospect like Murray proving his worth, though. It gave players like Montreal native Jerome Desrosiers, who are likely flying under most Canadian basketball fans’ radars, a chance to showcase themselves.
Desrosiers finished the game with 14 points and 13 rebounds and impressed coach Melnik with his tenacious play.
“He’s tough as nails,” Melnik said. “He’s athletic [and] and he’s a team guy. He kind of reminded me of Dillon Brooks a little bit. Dillon would make plays out of nothing and that’s what Jerome did. I remember turning to [one of my assistant coaches] Pasha Bains and I said, ‘he just made a play out of nothing – just out of sheer effort and guts.”