Seeing Kamloops, B.C., big man Kelly Olynyk make it a doubly historic night for Canadian hoops is a reminder of a great idea that met its demise too soon.
Most of the focus on Olynyk giving Canada its first-ever pair of NBA lottery picks by landing with the storied Boston Celtics after a draft night deal with the Dallas Mavericks will centre on his personal overhaul in 2011-12. The 7-foot, 234-pound post player, as you know, took a year off from playing competitively to rebuild his body and his game, which enabled him to average a very efficient 18 points last season while leading the Gonzaga Bulldogs to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
That was important, but it shouldn't be overlooked that an integral stop aon Olynyk's path from Kamloops, B.C., to the franchise of Larry Bird and Bill Russell was the late and lamented National Elite Development Academy.
Before Canada Basketball became more flush, thanks variously to new CEO Wayne Parrish, the formation of the Sixth Man group of benefactors and Steve Nash coming aboard as general manager for the senior men's national team, it was longer on ideas than infrastructure. The NEDA program, which centralized top female and male players in Hamilton, was well-intentioned. Of course, a summer team sport in which there is only two Olympic medals in the offing is not as Own The Podium-friendly as activities which are so much more mainstream, like skeleton. Thus the NEDA folded after three seasons, but Olynyk being drafted 13th overall should be seen as a legacy.
Numerous NEDA grads have gone on to thrive south of the border, including San Antonio Silver Stars rookie Kayla Alexander and Olympian Natalie Achonwa, who just helped Notre Dame reach the NCAA women's Final Four.
"The NEDA experience was unbelievable," Olynyk told the Hamilton Spectator in 2011. "They had quote unquote the 12 best players in Canada, right? Just playing against the best every day improves your game beyond what you can do by yourself. So I’ve got to attribute a lot of my success to our coach, Greg Francis, and to all the people who helped out with the NEDA program. The year before I went into that, I broke my shoulder playing football.
"So it was awesome for me," Olynyk added during that 2011 interview. "It got me noticed by a lot of people. It was really the kickoff of my career."
There is no one way for a Canadian baller to get to the next level. The U.S. prep school route has been a proven winner for Thursday's No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, along with 2014 top prospect Andrew Wiggins. Olynyk's Gonzaga teammate, point guard Kevin Pangos, played all of his high school hoops in Ontario, as did young Orlando Magic forward Andrew Nicholson, who was also a four-year player at a NCAA mid-major, St. Bonaventure. The NEDA was definitely needed; it's not the whole story, but it should not be left out.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.