There are few areas that have always proven to be fertile grounds for basketball’s future stars. Ohio produced Lebron James, Pennsylvania’s claim to fame is Kobe Bryant and ACC Country is widely known for a plethora of talent each year. Recently though, the secret is getting out about a new player on the scene from slightly farther north than the usual breeding suspects – Canada.
Ontario’s Andrew Wiggins is closing in on being appointed the NCAA Player of the Year award already, and this is before his college career has even begun. He’s “The Next Lebron James” and Kansas’ meal ticket to the Final Four. But he and his talent are not an aberration, rather a new trend.
While hockey may be on the minds of most Canadians during basketball season, change could be forthcoming in the name of Trey Lyles and the new crop of Canadian talent in their system. While Wiggins whet the appetite of recruiters nationwide in 2013, Lyles, who was born in Saskatoon, is swooping in to reinforce the burgeoning trend: passports are needed on recruiting visits to get your star.
Lyles’ father, Tom, was a professional basketball player in the World Basketball League and fathered the future phenom with his wife during a stint in Saskatchewan. Following his playing career, he moved his family back to his native homeland in the U.S. to coach. He is currently an assistant coach at Arsenal Technical High School in Indiana, and by no coincidence, coaches a son that he believes could far surpass him in talent.
“The main thing for him is that he has to think and understand that he’s a dominant player. He has to think that he can dominate every possession,” the coach said. “That’s the one thing that he’s been hearing from me and others along the way. You don’t play the game, you dominate the game.”
And dominated he has. Lyles has moved up to a top-five ranking in the 2014 recruiting class, having his pick of the litter on NCAA schools, a decision he made early in his high school career to end the speculation. Lyles committed to Indiana University in September 2010, but two years later reconsidered his decision.
“He fell in love with the coach on TV and all the sudden, here he is coming to your games, giving you attention. He got caught up in the moment,” his father said. “He knows now that you take your time. You don’t have to rush. Get to know the coach and his tendencies. Understand that person as much as you can because that is whom you’re going to be playing for. You need to take as much time as you have and leave no rock unturned.”
After going through the recruiting wringer once again, the choice between Louisville and Kentucky became like splitting hairs. In the end, Lyles decided that Coach John Calipari’s system in Lexington fit his future better.
“It became kind of annoying at times with coaches calling at all times of the night, but Louisville and Kentucky separated themselves,” the future Wildcat said. “They both have great coaches and great histories.”
Now it is up to Lyles to make the most out of his precious time in Lexington, which has not been long for most stars under the coach who has insinuated that up to seven of his players may enter the 2014 NBA Draft. If that is the case, Lyles will be left with a clean slate for his freshman campaign – a challenge he’s anxious to accept, and one that his father knows he can handle.
“Because of his IQ, he can dominate a game in so many ways. There are so many things he brings to the table. He can really put his signature on the game and make it more fun to watch,” the coach said. “Every time he steps on the court, it’s a mismatch. A nightmare waiting to happen.”
But a dream come true for his native Canada.
Because of his dual citizenship, Lyles was able to choose between the U.S. and Canada for international play. He felt out both systems, and eventually chose his birth country.
“I never knew that I could play for Canada, so I went to a couple of the U.S. training camps,” he said. “But then I got in contact with my dad and we chose to play for Canada because I thought it would be a better situation for me to showcase my talents. Playing with the team for the past couple of years has really been a great experience.”
With two future lottery picks on the U19 team that recently competed in the World Championships, the country had high expectations. Instead, Wiggins opted to rest during the summer to prepare for his freshman campaign in Kansas and with Lyles’ late injury, the team’s championship aspirations derailed. Nevertheless Lyles believed it was merely a stepping stone for greater things to come.
“There’s definitely more talent than we get credit for,” he said. “If we come together as well as we can and the national team is playing like it should, the only team that can stand in our way is the United States.”
The two stars certainly had a lot of help along the way too. Syracuse commit Tyler Ennis and Florida State commit Xavier Rathan-Mayes were among the other top-50 players on the team representing the up-and-coming young talent in the country that Tom Lyles believes they should wear with a badge of honor.
“In Canada, you’re not just another ball player. You could very well be a difference maker not just for a basketball program, but for a country,” he said. “The country has lots of talents, but in some cases very few outlets. You could be one of the few to open doors for kids who may have never had a chance simply because you gave back to your country.”
Canadian fans will have to wait just one last winter while Lyles dons an Arsenal Tech uniform in Indiana, aiming to not only win a state title, but go down as one of Indiana’s all-time greats. Then its on to the NCAA’s biggest stage in Lexington, Lyles will collect the torch from Andrew Wiggins to hold the hopes of a country in the palm of his hands at one of college basketball’s most famous cathedrals, Rupp Arena.
If Wiggins and Lyles live up to their billing…secret’s out, Canada. Prepare for the slew of coaching visits to follow.