For many elite-level high school athletes across the city, earning a scholarship to an American college is their number one goal.
However, many of Toronto’s high school basketball stars are looking to head south to play ball before they’ve even graduated.
The students are heading down to American prep schools, which sometimes only have a dozen students, all of whom are on the basketball team. These schools travel the country to play other top-level competition.
In his five years as the head coach of Oakwood Collegiate’s senior boys basketball team, Anthony Miller has seen three young athletes leave his program to head south to finish high school. He said he thinks the success of GTA-born NBA players Tristan Thompson and Corey Joseph are part of the reason the trend seems to be growing.
Both players left the GTA in high school for Findlay Prep, a prep school in Nevada, where they both earned scholarships to the University of Texas before being drafted in the first round of the 2011 NBA draft.
“I think it kind of started happening maybe five or six years ago, but I think it really took off when Corey and Tristan made the move,” he said. “Once those two guys went and people saw that Canadian kids could not only play with the American kids at that level, but they could dominate, then I think it just opened up Pandora’s box.”
Chevon Brown, a grade 12 guard at Richview Collegiate, said he hopes to play at a US prep school next year and plans on impressing recruiters on the AAU circuit when playing on his summer squad, the Northern Knights.
“I think it would be a good opportunity for a free education and to get looked at by bigger schools and universities and stuff like that,” he said. “I think it’s much easier to get looks that way.”
Miller has heard that before. One of his players, Isaiah Watkins, left Oakwood for St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey after helping the team win an OFSAA championship as a 6-foot-7 grade 10 student.
“We pretty much knew he was going to be really sought after by prep schools because he was just so good at such a young age,” Miller said. “For him to go to an NCAA school I think it was really hard for us to convince him that he could just be patient and it would come to him at Oakwood.”
However, Miller insisted that scholarships to US colleges are just as attainable playing here as they are playing south of the border. This season, Kevin Blake played his first year at Elon University in North Carolina after finishing high school at Oakwood, while Julian Clark just finished his second season at Santa Clara after earning a scholarship straight from Oakwood.
According to Miller, following the prep school trend could be beneficial to some players, but it’s not for everyone. He said the player’s level of skill and maturity are major factors, and stressed academics must come into play during the decision-making process.
“If they’re really good in the classroom then they get an opportunity to kind of make themselves more recruitable,” he said of his players. “You want to make sure that you’re extremely good in the classroom so that not only the regular NCAA schools can recruit you, but the Ivy League schools can recruit you.”
According to Brown, he thinks his academics will improve by being away from the distractions in his hometown.
“When I’m up here I have all my friends that I’ve grown up with, but down there it’s just going to be me alone so I have nothing but basketball and school,” he said.
Brown said he is hoping to transfer to La Lumiere Prep School in Indiana, the same school one of Miller’s former players, Adam Djukic, left for.
For Miller, he said the biggest benefit of heading south is the players will have the chance to improve their skill sets.
“The obvious positive is that you get to play against a really good calibre of players and you get a chance to really show your skills as a basketball player,” he said. “That’s invaluable. Playing against the best can obviously make you better.”
While Brown admitted having the best players leave could hurt the talent pool in Toronto, he said it is helping to put Toronto’s basketball scene on the map and open up opportunities for up-and-coming players.
“I can’t say it’s a negative trend, I can’t say it’s a positive trend, but you know what, kids are getting opportunities,” Miller said. “A lot of coaches are really heartbroken, including myself, when you’ve worked with a player for two years and then they’re gone from your program.
“But when you take a step back, I think you still have to celebrate those kids when they’re successful.”
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