Lest We Forget: The True Grassroots of Canadian Basketball

It feels so good to be Canadian right now. I turn on the television and see one of Drake’s new videos, then flip the channel again and see Anthony Bennett getting selected first overall in the NBA draft and can’t help but screaming I told you so loud enough for it to travel as far south as possible. For so long us Canadians have fought for the recognition we deserve. Fought to show the world what we’ve always known; that Canada is a country full of talented, gifted, and motivated individuals.
Maybe the most noticeable ascent to prominence has been in Canadian Basketball. Anthony Bennett being the first ever Canadian to be the top pick was a culmination of decades of work put in by many coaches, players, parents, scouts, and so many more people who have invested in the development of Canada basketball. So imagine my surprise when I read a CBC article by Stephen Baldwin suggesting that the current success of Canadian basketball should primarily be attributed to Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) program CIA Bounce. Could he be serious?
I had to pause for a minute when I finished reading the article. Don’t get me wrong, I do recognize what CIA Bounce has accomplished since they were created less than a decade ago (My 13 year old cousin plays for CIA Bounce), but not only would it be a disservice to attach the success of Canadian basketball primarily to that program, it would be factually incorrect.
It is impossible to assess the rise of Canadian basketball without mentioning the two biggest reasons that Canadian basketball is even relevant today; and those two reasons are Ro Russell and Wayne Dawkins. If it wasn’t for the work that these two put in long before CIA Bounce was ever conceived, then there would essentially be no foundation for Canadian basketball. That means no Anthony Bennett, or Tristan Thompson, or Corey Joseph, or Andrew Wiggins. There would be no CIA Bounce or any other AAU type program that borrowed the platform from both Wayne and Ro alike. 
And who am I to be making such a bold claim? First of all, I was fortunate enough to play for both coaches beginning in 1998 when Grassroots was just forming and we took trips to the ABCD Camps, Nike Camps, and countless tournaments all across the U.S. I’ve travelled to France with Grassroots to represent Canada in an international amateur tournament where we lost in the championship game to a Carmelo Anthony lead U.S team in a thrilling finals match that saw Denham Brown score 42 points and solidify himself as one of the best high school players of his time. I’ve been at a Grassroots practice with Syracuse, St. Bonaventure, Michigan, Texas, and many more top division one schools observing from the sideline. In other words, I was there; almost from the very start.  

My personal experiences aside, let’s look at what Ro and Wayne have accomplished in their combined 42 years of coaching and training experience. To date they’ve sent 280 men’s players and 110 women’s players to division one programs. They’ve sent hundreds more men and women to either division two, CIS or Junior College programs. Forty of these players have played overseas, and 4 of these players have either played (Denham Brown) or currently play (Tristan Thompson, Andrew Nicholson, Corey Joseph) in the NBA. Not to mention that 80% of the Canadian National team for the past decade have either played or participated in a Grassroots program run by Dawkins or Russell. 
If you believe I was pre-emptive when I said that there would be no CIA Bounce without the foundation that Wayne and Ro formed with Grassroots, then all you have to do is ask CIA Bounce co-founder Mike George who is an alumni of the Grassroots program. He should know the history of Grassroots and what Ro and Wayne have done for Canadian basketball. He should know that Grassroots was Nike sponsored for 12 years. He knows that Grassroots was the number one ranked AAU team in North America in 2008, the same year they became the first and only Canadian team to ever win the Vegas Super 64 Tournament, one of the biggest AAU tournaments of the summer.
Every morning when I turn to The Score for the previous night’s highlights and see that small Canadian flag beside the name of an athlete in the box score, I smile like a proud parent seeing their child live their dreams. I have that rite to smile, I’ve earned that rite. And if I am a parent, Ro Russell and Wayne Dawkins are pioneers; visionaries that have birthed opportunities for every Canadian basketball player on the court today living their dreams at the highest levels. Lest we forget, and if Canada basketball is truly honest with itself, Ro and Wayne will never be forgotten.

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