GLOBL JAM tournament shines spotlight on future of Canadian basketball

·Raptors Reporter
·13-min read

As 23-year-old Toronto native Marcus Carr stepped back and let go of a high-arcing three-pointer to seal a win over Team USA on the second day of Canada Basketball’s inaugural GLOBL JAM tournament, he looked to the crowd and pointed to his imaginary watch, “Like: y'all know what time it is,” Carr said of his celebration.

Only this time, for the first time since 2017 when he played at the Biosteel All-Canadian game, Carr got to actually do it in front of friends and family; this time, he wasn’t just looking at the crowd, but at his parents, brother and best friends sitting courtside. As someone who plays at the University of Texas more than 2,500 kilometers from his hometown, Carr doesn’t get that opportunity often.

It's surreal, really… My family doesn't really get a lot of opportunities to come out and see me play. So to play in front of them, to play in front of my extended family, to have this broadcast on Sportsnet and played across the country, it’s just huge to have this opportunity,” Carr says. “I'm very grateful.”

Carr isn’t the only one who is grateful. Along with all the other Canadian hoopers who got to represent their country and play on home soil for the first time in years, Canadian basketball fans got to see future professionals up close, which has historically been a rare opportunity.

Think about it: almost all of the best men’s and women’s talent in Canada go to the United States as early as high school or at the very latest for college, and they rarely get opportunities to play in Canada. As a result, Canadian basketball fans don’t get to see these players up close and personal, and they fly under the radar until they make it to the NBA or WNBA. Only most of them never make it that far, and while Canada has a proud history of men and women having acclaimed professional careers overseas, most Canadians don’t know about them because the media coverage isn’t there and the opportunities to see them in person are so scarce.

One of the main goals of GLOBL JAM is to change that, and for Canada Basketball to shape the narrative themselves. Here are the best young talents in the country, the tournament says. And here is an opportunity to get to know these athletes and to follow their journeys from here.

Of course, there are other purposes for GLOBL JAM, including the desire to fill a hole in the developmental system, where a U23 team provides a bridge between the U19 team and the senior team. Plus, the goal is to develop these athletes together in hopes they will learn the senior team systems and bring those touch points and chemistry to the senior team in the future. And with Canada Basketball money is always a concern, so having an asset to sell to sponsors and fans is another important aspect of the tournament.

But more than anything, this was an opportunity for athletes to come home and represent their country and inspire the next generation of Canadians to one day do the same. And while the inaugural tournament wasn’t perfect, it went about as well as anybody could have hoped, especially for the women’s team, who dominated on its way to a 5-0 record and a gold medal.

GLOBL JAM is a terrific opportunity for young Canadian players to showcase their skills on home soil. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Globl Jam)
GLOBL JAM is a terrific opportunity for young Canadian players to showcase their skills on home soil. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Globl Jam)

Homecoming

Team Canada’s starting point guard Shy Day-Wilson proved she belonged in just her second opportunity with the national program after playing U19s last summer, entertaining the crowd with step-back threes and smooth dribble-moves throughout the tournament and dropping 19 points and nine assists in the gold medal game. Most importantly, she got to do it in front of friends and family from her Toronto neighbourhood of Falstaff and Jane, seeing “Falstaff” signs everywhere she turned throughout the week.

“Man, it's a good feeling. It just feels really good to be back home playing in front of my fans and supporters and everything like that. I hadn't done that since like four years ago. So it's a great feeling and it's still surreal. I love every moment of it,” Day-Wilson says.

“Basketball is just growing in Canada and it's good for the culture and it's just motivation for all the young ones coming up to like, let them know that: ‘okay, you got next. Your time is coming soon.’”

Carly Clarke, head coach of the women’s team and an assistant on the Canadian women’s senior team, said she has been coaching with Team Canada since 2011, but this was her first time doing so on home soil. She thinks it's “massive” for the next generation of girls and boys to see these athletes up close and personal — especially the women since there are no pro women’s teams in Canada — giving them a unique experience that will stick with them and hopefully inspire them to work hard and one day reach that level if that is their dream.

“When women can see women doing something, I think that has a whole other impact,” Clarke says. “So for fans to get the opportunity to see some future WNBA players firsthand and be able to aspire and maybe get their autograph, I think those memories will last so much longer in-person than from watching on TV.”

And while the men fell short of their goal, losing to Team USA (represented by Baylor) in the semifinal, GLOBL JAM was also an opportunity for the Canadian men to put themselves on the map and inspire the next generation themselves. The team was competitive in every game and provided amazing entertainment to the fans, with Carr and brothers Leonard and Emmanuel Miller standing out as possible future NBA players for fans to keep an eye on as they each head into what will likely be their final seasons before turning pro.

As for Thomas Kennedy, the starting centre for Team Canada’s men’s team and the only U SPORTS player on the roster, he got to represent U SPORTS and prove there is still a lot of talent residing in Canada and that Canadians can stay home and develop at the same rate that they would if they went to America.

“I like to pride myself on putting in as much work as those NCAA guys who some people for some reason still look down on U SPORTS, but a thing like this where I got the opportunity to come out represent Canada, be a part of the starting five for all four games, just shows that U SPORTS, homegrown talent is still there,” Kennedy says.

As the best centre on a team full of players representing top-level NCAA schools, his example is sure to be used at U SPORTS recruiting pitches for years to come.

Development and scouting opportunity

While the main purpose of GLOBL JAM is to play a tournament on home soil and to inspire the next generation, it’s also an incredibly important development and scouting opportunity for the best U23 athletes who were chosen to represent Canada.

After all, many of these athletes are heading into their final college seasons and want to turn pro, while others are focused on making the senior national team in order to represent their country at the FIBA World Cup or Olympics.

Day-Wilson and Merissah Russell both used this opportunity to prove they were too good for this level and are ready to take that next step to the senior team, potentially as early as this September’s FIBA World Cup.

“I mean, everyone sees it and I kind of see it too. Like I'm kind of ready for the next level,” Day-Wilson says. “So I'm gonna just keep taking it step by step. And when that time comes, I'm gonna be ready.”

Tournament MVP Aaliyah Edwards and starting guard Shaina Pellington are the only two women on the GLOBL JAM team that have experience playing on the senior team as members of the 2021 Tokyo Olympic squad, but they played sparingly there and hope this opportunity will show they are ready to take on bigger roles.

It's very important having experiences with the senior women's national team. I have a lot of older mentors, all my big sisters really carry me up to that level,” Edwards says. “They're now moving on with their professional career. So for me to be able to step up is what pushes me, harping on being a leader to guide the next generation for sure.”

“Being on the senior team, I'm always like the youngest person. But now on this team, I'm like the oldest. So it's a really different role for me,” Pellington says. “I’m not nearly where I need to be right now [for the senior team]. But I'm working on it so when those games come — the next Olympic Games or whatever it may be — I'm ready.”

Aside from the senior national team, GLOBL JAM is also an opportunity for the men and women to get scouted for when they do turn pro, which is something that did not escape Pellington’s mind as she prepares to enter her final year of college.

“This is a really big opportunity for me to not only participate with my teammates but to play against other teams that have pro players, play against other teams that have coaches that are coaching pro teams,” Pellington says. “ So it's a showcase for me and a showcase for all of us, honestly. So I'm going to take advantage of it the best way I can.”

Kennedy says he learned a lot this week by playing with such high-level athletes and getting more experience playing the international game.

“I think one of the biggest things was just playing with such a high level of talent, whether it was the opponents or my teammates,” Kennedy says. “I get plenty of opportunities to do it. But during my regular season at the University of Windsor, sometimes it can be a little lower. So these are guys that I see myself among and I love playing with them.”

Men’s head coach Nathaniel Mitchell used GLOBL JAM as an opportunity to teach his team winning habits, because he believes winning is a big part of development.

“We’re gonna develop these guys and we want them to play in [the Olympics in] 2028," Mitchell said. "But in order to do that, they have to develop a winning mentality, a winning attitude. And these guys are coming here with the expectation to win. And I think from the senior team on down, Nick Nurse speaks about it a lot: ‘expect to win.’ And so the message here is no different."

However, he acknowledged that no matter what the result of the tournament was, he would be happy as long as all of his players learned from the opportunity and went back to college as better players. He can rest assured that they will.

Supporting Canadian basketball

While GLOBL JAM was by all accounts a success, with Canada Basketball announcing the tournament will be back next summer, there was one glaring issue that I couldn’t get over in all my days there: Mattamy Athletic Center, the host for the tournament, was empty. Well, not exactly empty of course, but instead of the thousands of fans that should have lined up to watch future NBA and WNBA players play high-level international basketball for their country in downtown Toronto, it felt like there were only 200 to 600 people at each game, fewer for the women than the men.

When asked about her experience playing at home after Team Canada’s opening win, Edwards started by saying: “I wish there were a bit more fans.”

You can blame the ticket prices or the timing all you want, but the reality is the same people who complain about Canada’s best talents choosing not to represent their country are the same people who don’t show up when they do.

The disappointing turnout reminded me of something Sportsnet's Tim Micallef said recently on his show “Tim and Friends.” He was talking about the Canadian senior men’s national team playing a home game in Hamilton, Ont., on Canada Day, where Shai Gilgeous-Alexander would return home for the first time in almost seven years. It was also a disappointing turnout, all things considered.

“Then I realized that might be part of the problem here: We worship at the altar of American basketball so much that we don't see our own kids anymore,” Micallef said. “The pipeline is now real, but like many things, that pipeline south has also become a drain. We lose our kids as teenagers and when they do get a chance to come home and show off in front of friends and family, It's usually only once that they've made the actual league…”

“It's time we focus on us: on keeping our kids here, on giving them the same opportunities here in our home and native land and showing the same kind of support for Canada,as we do for the guys who just happen to play their professional basketball in Canada. So that if and when our kids leave and they come back to play for Canada, it's not in front of the 1,500 or 2,000 people that some of them would get in their high school games down south — it's in front of 18,000 or 20,000.”

Canada could have had a way bigger home-court advantage had it sold out the venue and even more kids could have been inspired if their parents had brought them to the tournament. But the most important part about supporting Canadian athletes is it shows them they are valued, because if they feel valued, they are way more likely to show up and represent their country in the future, whether that’s at next year’s GLOBL JAM tournament or one day with the senior team at the Olympics.

“It’s important to have it here. I think it’s important for our community to support these guys,” Mitchell said about playing on home soil. “I think the biggest thing with Canada Basketball is we always want these guys to come back and play and represent our country. And we as a country and a community need to make sure we’re coming out and supporting them, because when we put an environment together that they feel is amazing and they’re playing for the country, I guarantee that they will all want to come back and continue to represent.”

Going forward, let’s make sure that our Canadian athletes get the support they deserve.

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