Canadian basketball swagger on display at high school showcase

It's no longer a secret that Canadian basketball is on the rise.

More evidence of that was on display last week when the third BioSteel All Canadian game was held at the University of Toronto's Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport.

The annual showcase features 24 of the best high school basketball players born in Canada or playing at a Canadian prep school.

Among those sitting courtside were Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan and Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman, along with writers from ESPN and Slam Magazine, and NBA scouts, including ex-Raptor Landry Fields.

Canadian swagger

It seems there's a newfound swagger in Canadian basketball, and it was on full display among the participants in the BioSteel game.

From Abu Kigab sticking his tongue out on each jump shot (reminiscent of Michael Jordan) to Nickeil Alexander-Walker looking away and celebrating a three-pointer before knowing he'd made the shot, there was no shortage of confidence on the court.

"We're closing the gap," said Alexander-Walker.

"USA Basketball being what it is with all the superstars they have, Canada is getting closer to that stage and taking the world over."

Indeed, players like Steve Nash and Andrew Wiggins are no longer exceptions to the norm as Canadians are making a greater impact in the game.

University of Oregon star Dillon Brooks will potentially add to the crop of pros this fall, and plenty more talent is set to join the American collegiate ranks, including 11 players from this year's BioSteel game.

Canada's got talent

Oshae Brissett, Kigab, and Alexander-Walker were all members of Canada's under-18 team at the 2016 FIBA Americas tournament and, in an almost un-Canadian way, aren't shy about embracing the spotlight.

"We're definitely on the rise," said Kigab. "Our identity is out there. People are watching out for us all the time. When I go out there, I want to prove that Canada can beat the U.S. It's not just the U.S. that's got talent."

Canada finished second behind the U.S. in a closely contested championship game.

Kigab had 17 points off the bench and the defeat got his competitive juices flowing.

"We fell short at the end. I didn't have a great second half," said the Oregon commit. "That really motivated me. As soon as I landed [home], I went straight to the gym and started working on my jump shot. I shot it pretty well but I want to shoot it better next time I play [the U.S.]."

The gold medal match was a learning opportunity and measuring stick for Brissett and the young Canadian squad.

Markelle Fultz, the potential No.1 overall pick in the upcoming NBA draft, and Michael Porter Jr., this year's top recruit on ESPN's top 100 list of NCAA prospects, were amongst the notable members of the star-studded American squad.

"Those guys are future NBA players. As a competitor you want to see what [Fultz] does and mimic what he does because of how great of a player he is," said Brissett, who has committed to Syracuse.

Legacy of Biosteel game

Outside of the showcase game, the BioSteel event is an opportunity for these young men to pick the brains of NBA veterans like DeRozan, learn how to manage their bodies, and bond with potential college and national teammates.

But above all, Alexander-Walker believes the showcase is necessary to continue grooming NBA talent in Canada.

"It's kind of like our own McDonald's [All-American] game, something that shows Canadians to the NBA world, giving guys exposure that don't go to prep school in the States," said the Virginia Tech commit.

"There's a lot of scouts here. This exposure can get their name on the map because everyone is connected to everyone. Every NBA scout has a college coach on speed dial."

Thon Maker of the Milwaukee Bucks and Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets both played their prep school basketball at nearby Orangeville Prep and participated in the inaugural showcase event, with the latter winning MVP.

Just a couple of years later, both are top-10 NBA draft picks, bringing more respectability to the BioSteel game and its prospects.

"That plays a big role in scouts coming because it's like, 'Well, two former NBA players did play here so let's go check it out because maybe they [Canada] might have a next NBA player,'" said Alexander-Walker.

"[NBA teams are] always trying to get the upper hand on other teams so they might think, 'We might be able to find a sleeper early and and watch him grow.' And that's how they learn about these Canadians and that helps them to be drafted in the future."