LAS VEGAS -- One of the best summer basketball teams in this country isn't even from this country.
It's from Canada.
|Former UConn standout Denham Brown is one of the greats to play for Ro Russell. (Getty Images)|
Well then, Mission Accomplished.
(Or whatever it is Canadians say when they achieve goals.)
Because so far this week the Canadian team has handled high-profile outlets from Atlanta and Los Angeles, and demolished a team from Chicago so badly that the coach -- Derrick Rose's older brother Reggie Rose, the man who famously (and illegally) flew on those Memphis charters while his sibling led the Tigers to the Final Four -- started collecting technical fouls and unleashing profanity-laced tirades on the referees. Then he pulled his team off the court for good with more than 10 minutes remaining in the game.
In other words, Rose's team just quit.
They were down 30.
"That's two years in a row," Russell said with a smile. "Last year we played Team Philly and we were up by 38 with 10 minutes left, and [that game was stopped prematurely, too]. It's our mentality. We don't want to just beat you. We want to beat you so badly that you bow down to us, and that sends a message to everybody else."
That message: Canada is no longer just a hockey nation.
It is producing elite basketball prospects coming to a college campus near you.
"I have four guys ranked in the [top 50]," Russell said. "How many teams have that?
Answer: Not many.
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The star of the group is future Texas Longhorn Tristan Thompson, a 6-foot-9 forward ranked by Scout.com as the third-best prospect in the Class of 2010. Teammate Corey Joseph is 12th in the Class of 2010 at Rivals.com. Then there's Dwight Powell, whom Rivals.com has No. 50 in the Class of 2010. And in the Class of 2011, Myck Kabongo is Scout.com's 18th-best prospect. He has already committed to Texas, just like Thompson.
It should be noted that all four prospects are genuinely Canadian.
Just like all of Grassroots' players are genuinely Canadian.
Even if the elite attend school in the United States.
That's the truly unique thing about Grassroots, how the best of the best leave Canada for better training in the United States during the school year but return each summer to play for their home program. They understand that basketball is more of an "activity" than a serious sport in the Canadian school system, so they find new homes at places like IMG Academy and Findlay Prep. Still, they are loyal to the Grassroots program, and that loyalty has allowed them to develop as a cohesive group that understands how to win while similarly talented prospects from Los Angles might play for the Southern California All-Stars one summer, then the Pump N Run Elite the next, then the Compton Magic the next.
American prospects just bounce all over the place.
Pe'Shon Howard, for instance, has played for two different teams this week.
But the Canadian kids don't operate that way, and that's one of the reasons Grassroots won the 17-and-under division of the Adidas Super 64 last summer and seems poised to do it this summer, too. And then, perhaps, next summer and the next summer and, well, you get the point.
"Yes, this year's 17-and-under team will go down as our best team ever," Russell said. "But there's another group coming right behind them."
I saw part of that group late Thursday night.
I met a young man named Andrew Wiggins.
He's the son of NBA veteran Mitchell Wiggins and the former Marita Payne, an Olympic track star from Canada who met Wiggins while both were student-athletes at Florida State. They later married and had a son in Canada. They named him Andrew. He's a 6-5 wing now playing for the Grassroots Canada Elite 16-and-under team, and did I mention that he's only 13 years-old?
"[Former UConn standout] Denham Brown used to be my best player ever, and now it's Tristan Thompson," Russell said. "Right now, Tristan is my best player ever. But Andrew Wiggins will eventually be the best player I've ever had."
Consider that filed away for future reference. In the meantime, I'll prepare to watch Grassroots Canada win the 17-and-under division of the Adidas Super 64 while further establishing itself as one of the sport's best summer programs. And again, this sport is not hockey. It's basketball -- the "American" game invented by a Canadian that is now being dominated on the summer circuit by a team full of them.