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Eastern Commerce Saints: Setting the Gold Standard

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Unless you’ve been under the proverbial basketball rock the last few years, the name Eastern Commerce will be unknown to you. But, if you have been following Canadian high school basketball, you’ll know that the Eastern Commerce Saints Senior Boys basketball team made history by becoming the first team to win four consecutive senior boys basketball provincial gold medals at the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Association (OFSAA). Head coach Roy Rana, has been at the helm for five years, and he is the architect of this squad that is the closest thing to a basketball dynasty since the Kobe/Shaq duo before the Lakers broke up.

Eastern went into this year’s OFSAA championship tournament as the second ranked team out of 16 squads. They easily went 3-0 in the preliminary games and then defeated Scarborough, Ontario’s West Hill Warriors 67-61 in the semi-finals. Then it was on to the final to take on the number one ranked Mother Teresa Titans. Some 2,500 screaming fans witnessed the Saints dribble their names into the record books by winning their 4th straight provincial title. With a score of 51-42 over the Titans, the school recorded its 7th OFSAA basketball gold medal.

Rana believed in his team despite the odds against a 4-peat. “We weren’t dominant. But when crunch time came we stepped up. The kids started to focus and used their championship experience.” Although the head coach knows the team has done something special, he is already looking forward to next year, “I don’t think we understand what we accomplished.” He goes on to say “The machine never stops rolling and there’s no time to bask, we must plan forward and are very proud and humbled by it.”

Now winning one provincial championship is tough enough… two even harder…three is darn near impossible. But, to win four gold medals in a row you must have commitment and discipline, as well as some great kids with big time basketball talent. All-Canadian guards Tyrone Mattison and Ronnie Williams poured in 11 points and 10 points respectively for the winners.

But don’t think that Eastern ballerz are just good on the court, because since the 1999-2000 season, 21 of the 22 senior team members have graduated with an Ontario Secondary School Diploma. As well, 18 of the 22 graduates have gone on to play post secondary school hoops in either the CCAA, CIS or NCAA. Names like Tristan Blackwood, Jermaine Anderson and Kingsley Costain are some of the recent Eastern stars who have gone on to NCAA Division one programs.

At Eastern, the players are used to winning…losing is really never an option, and the coach credits the kids’ ability to step up and seize the moment as a reason they were able to win their 4th title. “When the games get tough, when the pressure builds and the stage gets larger, they always perform, they are WINNERS!”

Williams and Mattison are the official leaders of a squad that had only three players over 6-5, with most being around the 6-0 range. Obviously the team is size-challenged, but they play BIG. They have also bought into the philosophy of playing tough pressure defence and that’s what has set them apart from all the other elite teams in Canada.

The team is also extremely athletic and seeks to create opportunities for each other. Their unselfishness makes them a tough team to stop. Williams, a 6-0 guard, garnered several tournament MVP awards during the season, but even he doesn’t quite grasp yet what the team has done this year. “It’s kinda sinking in now. We made history and it feels really good. Maybe we don’t realize how big it is right now, maybe ten years from now we will finally realize what kind of goal we accomplished.”

He goes on to say, “We played in so many big tournaments and big games that we’re used to it and we know what we have to do to win the games and how focused we have to be and it gives us an upper hand.”
As for Mattison, he has become the first player to win 4 OFSAA golds, a record that will be very hard to break. He has been groomed from grade 9 onwards and is also having a hard time believing what the team has done. “It hasn’t sunk in yet, people have told me about it. It’s a great feeling to have.”

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In terms of basketball in Toronto, several huge names come to mind: Jamal Magloire, Denham Brown, Phil Dixon, Rowan Barrett, Sherman Hamilton and Greg Francis to name a few. They all went on to play Division one basketball south of the border. Surprisingly, none have more than 2 OFSAA golds. Some didn’t even win one provincial gold in their storied high school careers, making Mattison’s feat even more remarkable. Mattison would definitely be in my Hall of Fame.

When you play basketball at Eastern you know who came before you. You know that Magloire and Colin Charles led the Saints to back-to-back championships in 1995 and 1996. You may have even heard of the 1982 provincial champs that were led by 6-5 big-time power forward Joe Alexander. So everyone who suits up in a Saints uniform and takes to the hardwood in the 70-seat gym that is their home court, is aware of the strong basketball pedigree that has existed for over three decades.

Magloire of course, has the greatest influence on Eastern’s program simply because he is the one that made it to the NBA. The 2004 All-Star has meant a lot to this program. He consistently reps for Eastern and coach Rana knows the value of Magloire’s success to his student athletes. “The kids look up to Jamaal. He’s been back a few times and spoken to the school population as a whole, not just the basketball players. He’s raised our profile from being a pretty good high school program to maybe the most high profile in the country.”

So what’s next for the champs? Well they are going to lose Williams and Mattison. Both have received scholarship offers from schools such as Purdue, Providence, Maine, San Diego, Wyoming and Monmouth. While Kedar Ahmed is the other key departing senior on the team.

So, can they get number five? Mattison thinks so. “Learie Duncan is a big key to getting number five, and Junior Cadougan is an unbelievable kid, one of the best in Canada.” Williams is also a believer. He notes “They definitely have a good shot despite losing three seniors because they have the talent to win as long as they play hard.” As for Rana, he feels Duncan, who will move to the point from the four spot, is the team’s leader. “He has the heart of a champion and these are the types of players that succeed in this program. He has all the mental and physical fortitude to get the job done.”

Now you can call Eastern anything, but just don’t call it a basketball factory. “I wouldn’t say it’s a basketball factory. What I’d say is it’s a great high school basketball program. A real emphasis on their academic support has helped guys move on,” says the coach. “I think people look at us as a factory because we’ve been able to move our athletes on to post-secondary education in Canada and the U.S. I think we’ve been very successful in moving kids on and keeping them in school.”

There is no doubt that Eastern Commerce will continue to develop quality basketball players that graduate and qualify for University or College, year after year. They simply possess the Gold Standard. With standards like that, these players cannot lose, on or off the court.

Boys

Canada’s Finest: Lindell Wigginton

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Canada’s Finest: Lindell Wigginton

2017 Canadian Guard Lindell Wiggington from Nova Scotia is Canada’s next rising star.

Balling out of the famous Oak Hill Academy academy program that is synonymous with NBA development, Wigginton has been on tear solidify his name and game.

Wiggington a 6’1, 180lbs point guard has committed to the Iowa State Cyclones commit and is the first Canadian Basketball player to attend Oakhill academy.

 

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Boys

Cliche put to rest – Canada’s Orangeville Prep develop two lottery NBA players

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Basketball… So many thoughts come to one’s mind after hearing that noun. The game has made us judge, argue, hate and even fight. Yet we still love this game and wouldn’t change it for the world. Yes there are cons, but the pros outweighs the cons by far. The game of basketball has turned nightmares to fairytales for many! It has helped people put racial tension aside, it’s brought life and hope to millions of families and overall it has impacted the world in a fascinating fashion. Since its existence in 1891 it seems as though the game has never seized to keep growing. From a sport that was just known in North America for most of the 20th century, Basketball is now ranked as the third most popular sport in the world trailing only cricket and soccer.

1992-USA-Dream-Team

1992 USA Gold Medal Olympic Team – The “Dream Team”

The number of youth playing basketball worldwide has seen some record breaking numbers the past few decades; it’s fair to say that most of these kids have one common dream – to play in the most popular basketball league in the world the ‘National Basketball Association’. Many may ask when did making it to the NBA become such a world-wide dream? It happened in the summer of 1992, the first year that the Olympic committee allowed active NBA players to part-take in the America basketball team.

This team would go on to be known as the ‘Dream Team’ and to many sports writers the greatest team in all of sports. The Dream Team featured NBA legends such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley and many other NBA greats. They won by an average of 44 points. But their greatest accomplishment was not destroying teams and winning the gold. It was showcasing the essence of pure basketball talent and the NBA. Making it the first time for practically all international countries to see what the NBA was and is all about. Many great international players such as Tony Parker, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and many others credit the Dream Team for allowing the NBA to become more international.

Today the NBA has over 80 international players from over 40 countries. This has made in sort for more and more high schools and prep schools around the world to construct great basketball programs for their schools. Leaving plenty high schoolers with the dream of making it to make the NBA. Despite high school student’s 0.3% chances of fulfilling their childhood basketball dreams High schools and prep schools have still done a phenomenal job in building amazing basketball programs world-wide. When people think of great high school and prep school basketball programs there are few teams that come to mind right away. Such as Oak Hill Academy who’s produced 27 NBA players, DeWitt Clinton who produced 19 NBA players, Dematha Catholic who’s produced 14, Laurinburg Institute 12. The list goes on but these four notable high schools and prep schools have developed the most NBA players. That is not to say that there aren’t many other great basketball programs. However, there has been a cliché amongst the youth that only schools in America can develop NBA players.

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That cliché was recently put to rest after two players who came out of Canada’s Orangeville Prep got selected in the 2016 NBA Draft! Kitchener, Ontario’s own Jamal Murray who was picked at #7 by the Denver Nuggets and Sudanese/Australian and adopted Canadian Thon Makur who was picked at #10 by the Milwaukee Bucks. Orangeville District Secondary School’s mission is “to provide exceptional educational opportunities as well as state of the art basketball facility and development for high school student athletes looking to make their passion for basketball a reality at the next level.” They’ve done a tremendous job of that and should be proud.

BasketballBuzz took the time to interview both Murray and Makur head coach at Orangeville Prep Larry Blunt who recently coached the Oshawa Power in the NBL Canada and who coached at the NCAA level for eight years.

Coach-Larry-Blunt-Orangeville-Prep

Orangeville Prep Head Coach Larry Blunt

BB: Coach can you tell us your thoughts on seeing two of your old boys Murray & Makur get drafted to the NBA?

LB: I think it’s exciting when you get an opportunity to see things work out for the boys. This gives us the opportunity to hopefully replicate it

BB : You seen the two come in as boys and transformed into men, how has that process been like?

LB: That process has been great. I think we can see it especially with Thon in the way he transformed his body. And with both of them you can see great transition they made emotionally and every other part of their game.

BB: How have you managed to keep your team so relevant with all the powerhouse teams you guys play in the states?

LB: Our guys play with a chip on their shoulders. Knowing that they need to go get the respect from their peers. We’ve been getting great feedbacks especially the last two years with Makur & Murray success. We touched success at not only the NBA but also the division 1 level which has been great.

BB : What has been the toughest challenge for your boys?

LB: Everything has been tough. Nothing is given here, I think the getting to practice at 3 or 4 then having to go to class has prepared them well. No favour is giving, kids have to fight, they do not have it easy and had to work for everything they had.

Thon-Maker-Jamal-Murray-OrangeVille-Prep

Thon Maker & Jamal Murray – Orangeville Prep

BB: What can we expect from Murray and Makur in the NBA?

LB: I think both of their game will translate well into the NBA. Especially with the new NBA, Thon can take advantage of the space with his shots. Especially with the new rule to get your hands off guys. Jamal Murray is a traditional point guard. I don’t think the world seen Jamal Murray in the global games and Nike tournaments where he ran a team. I think that is a skill set that the world will see. They also both possess a great work ethic.

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AAU

Ashitei Twins Loyalty Towards Ottawa Phoenix Basketball Club

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With so many sponsorship deals, kids not having patience and friends wanting to stick together; the word Loyalty has become a lost art in today’s basketball world. It’s fair to say that there are very few programs nowadays that are lucky to have the chance of developing players from their first year of eligibility right through their last. It has become quite common for players to bounce around teams until they encounter one that meets all their immediate necessities. Nevertheless, like in most situations in life there will be some exceptions; and have people that will go against the norm, like many who have had the opportunity of playing for the Ottawa Phoenix basketball club.Quinton-Ashitei-Ottawa-Phoenix

Phoenix basketball program began in 1997 with the goal of providing for local youths from the area who wanted an opportunity to play basketball after the high school season was over. For about two years coaches Andy Waterman and Adrienne Coddett brainstormed on what shape and direction they thought would be best for the program. After the anticipating two years they came to the conclusion/ creation of the Ottawa Phoenix basketball club. From the very beginning Phoenix basketball goal was to provide young men with an opportunity to excel in their classroom and in the athletic arena. Decades later the organization continues to assist young basketball players on their voyage of discovery.

The club has done a phenomenal job of making players stick around throughout the years and now is recognized as one of the best basketball clubs in the city of Ottawa. They’ve helped develop star powers such as Garry Gallimore, Ishmael Kaba, Johnny Berhanemeskel, Jahenns Manigat and many more! They’ve had such an influence on players that guys like Jahenns Manigat who’s played four years for Division one basketball with Creighton Blue Jays and now for a pro team in Romania; has been going to the facility practically everyday to mentor the kids and tell them what it’s like to play college ball and professionally.

Two very special individuals who have followed the footsteps of other former Phoenix Alumni’s and demonstrated throughout their years with the program the definition of patience, hard work and loyalty. Soon to-be alumni’s of Phoenix basketball are the Ashitei twins, Shandon and Quintin. The twins have been great role-models for the younger generation of basketball players in Ottawa. They’ve not only stuck with Phoenix from beginning to end but they did it with class and are both leaving with tremendous amount of skills and character that will certainly benefit them in their next step as they prepare for University.

Their journey began in the summer of 2012. The twins grandpa woke them up one day and told them that he signed them up for this camp. The first thought was that they would attend the basketball camp for a week. It was the supposed to be the usual “fill a week of the summer” for the kids routine. At the end of camp, there were lots of hugs and thank you’s for a fun week of camp, and see you never goodbye’s.
Shandon-Ashitei-Ottawa-Phoenix1
The very next week of camp, the first two campers in the gym were Shandon and Quintin Ashitei!  The (Twins) have been with Phoenix every since. Shandon and Quintin are now members of an elite group of Phoenix players who have competed in more than 150 games. The great accomplishment is a testament to Shandon and Quintin their loyalty and trust in our Ottawa Phoenix organization. Over their years, Shandon and Quintin have been approached about playing in other organizations. To their credit, they have stayed loyal to the program, and to our belief that ‘tradition never graduates.” Shandon and Quintin have now become veteran leaders and role models to our younger players and summer campers and have been classic examples of the fact that “you don’t change the message, the message changes you.”

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Coming into high school the Ashitei twins we’re heavily underrated. After both getting cut from their local OBA team they’ve played with a chip on their shoulder ever since. When the first Phoenix AAU travel team was made the Ashiteti twins we’re finally selected, participating in their first club team. They both stated that “It was tough!” so tough, that in fact most people quit the team that year. And now, the twins are the only two remaining players on Phoenix that started back in 2012. Despite the tough years they’ve managed to stick through it and now have surpassed many of the players that we’re ranked above them as they entered high school. Now the twins will be bringing the hard earned loyalty to the university level. Their recruiting process has been quite interesting as they come as a package deal. They’ve both stated that whatever school wants one brother has to take the other as well. They’ve gotten over five university offers have kept their grades up all their high school career. They came to the program as young boys and are leaving as young men!

In the end the twins decided to attend Nipissing Lakers where they’ve received the Schulich Scholarship from Nipissing University! The Schulich is an academic scholarship based on their top four grade 12 marks and their commitment to community volunteer work.

Their coach Andy Waterman stated:

“It has been a pleasure to be able to work closely with Shandon, Quintin and their family. We have also been fortunate to be involved in so many aspects of the boys lives, from birthdays, international tours, huge tournament wins to endless hours traveling the highways and byways and Eastern Canada and the United States. The (Twins) have now carved out their own identities in the long Phoenix storyline. Along the way they have become Shandon and Q. They have helped usher in the next phase of Phoenix ball.  I look forward to the next episode for Shandon and Q.” Concluded coach Waterman.

“The future is so bright, you gotta wear shades”

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