Right now, a lot of people are talking about the success of the Toronto Raptors. Many of the Canadians that are playing in the NBA either grew up or were born in Toronto or the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). As a result, Quebec basketball is overshadowed by basketball in Ontario, and more specifically the GTA.
The Toronto Raptors, in the province of Ontario, has the only NBA team in Canada. When looking at the Raptors 905 and the two pro Canadian basketball leagues, Ontario has 10 of Canada’s 19 professional basketball teams in the country (this includes two Canadian Atlantic teams that are currently existing but are dormant for a year).
This is not the case with Quebec basketball, the province with the second-most NBA players in the NBA.
The Rise of Quebec NBA Players in Canada
The province with the second most NBA players from Canada is the province of Quebec. Quebec basketball, in contrast to Ontario, has no professional basketball teams of any sort. Yet, they have two NBA players in Chris Boucher and Khem Birch. There is also Luguentz Dort that is breaking through with Oklahoma City Thunder’s G-League as Oklahoma City Blue’s best player.
More astonishing is the fact that there could be even more NBA players coming from Quebec and “La Belle Province.”
There are three big reasons for this: immigration, grassroots basketball programs, and the G-League.
Quebec Basketball – Immigration
Quebec, a province of Canada was given its own right to choose its own economic immigrants coming to Canada in 1978.
As a result, 63 percent of immigrants arriving in the province of Quebec spoke French as a first language.
There was also a staggering number of francophone immigrants coming to Quebec from 2005 to 2014 as 85 percent of immigrants have come to Canada.
Anyone who knows international basketball knows that France is a basketball-loving country. They eliminated the USA in the last FIBA World Cup.
Furthermore, a lot of France’s former colonies also play basketball. These countries include Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Senegal.
These demographics have played a big reason for basketball to flourish in Quebec. This and the low cost of playing basketball are big reasons why the game is becoming so popular in Quebec.
The grassroots basketball programs like Brookwood Elite in Montreal has taken advantage of the demographics and are developing lots of NBA talent from Quebec.
Grassroots Montreal Basketball
Brookwood Elite is a Montreal-based AAU program that started in 2004 by Joey McKitterick. According to Aaron Rose of CBC News, a lot of the NBA players that could be produced will come from the Brookwood Elite.
“It’s very possible that Quebec produces five NBA players in the next five years,” Wesley Brown, a Canadian basketball scout at the Monday Morning Scouting Report, said. “Dort, Quincy [Gurrier], Keeshawn [Barthélémy] and a few other younger guys all have potential NBA talent.”
Another program called Parc Extension, a program Nelson Ossé has overseen since 2005.
“If you come to a Parc Ex practice, the first thing you’re going to see is that practice starts at 5:30 [p.m.],” Gerson Rosalva, a coach at Parc Ex, said. “Any kids that get there at 5:31, they’ve got to sit on the side until somebody tells you to join in.”
This discipline has helped with basketball in Montreal as Hantoumakos explains:
“The one thing that’s very different with the kids in Montreal, comparatively speaking, with the kids in Ontario is just the humility,” Hantoumakos said. “That goes back to Nelson and Joey back in Montreal instilling that in them from a young age.”
At Parc Ex, their big goal is to give kids athletic scholarships to deal with university tuition.
Lastly, and most importantly the price of being in the program is cheap. It costs about $100 with additions of both running shoes and jerseys. Compare that to hockey which the costs can go upward to $1,000.
This makes the sport easier to access for kids in Montreal.
Montreal Basketball League
Lastly, there is the Montreal Basketball League that has 100 teams. The popularity rise in Montreal can be seen in this quote:
“We got a large influx of Haitian and French-speaking Africans [after 1977],” McKitterick said. “So, our basketball community is reflective of that now.”
An example of this would be Luguentz Dort, a born Montrealer from Haitian immigrants.
Quebec NBA and G-League Players
Luguentz Dort went undrafted in the 2019 NBA Draft but has signed a two-year contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
He is making an impression with the Thunder’s farm team the Oklahoma City Blue. According to dyapkowitz, in one game this season, he had 35 points, five assists, and five rebounds. He has been the best player on the team averaging 21.9 points per game, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.8 assists, and 1.2 steals per game.
He is following Chris Boucher’s footsteps by proving to everyone that he should be in the NBA. The Thunder should be happy with Lugentz Dort, who looks poised to make a difference at the NBA level.
The Chris Boucher story must be one of the most inspirational roads to the NBA. At age 16, he was a homeless teen and a high school dropout.
According to Peter Mendelsohn of CBC News he was cleaning dishes at age 19 for Quebec’s popular food chain St. Hubert. He was earning less than $10 an hour and everyone around him had something more going on in their lives.
“I was not going to school. The only thing I was doing was working, but if I wasn’t working that day, I really had nothing to do,” said Boucher.
However, that all changed when Chris Boucher’s friends told him about an upcoming basketball tournament.
Loic, the person who eventually recruited Chris Boucher was watching a game against Brookwood Elite and the team Chris Boucher was playing for.
“It was like 10 boys playing against an organized team. I thought, ‘This is going to be interesting’, because they didn’t have a coach. I was intrigued to see how it was going to play out,” said Loic.
As expected, Chris Boucher’s team got destroyed, but Loic noticed Boucher.
“There was a tall, lanky athletic kid,” said Loic. “He didn’t quit even though they were down 40 points.”
Loic gave his brother Igor a call: “I think I found someone special,” he said. “A gem. This kid is not normal.”
Loic contacted his brother Igor to recruit Boucher into the Alma Academy.
College and NBA Career
Chris Boucher went to the US after playing for Alma Academy for a year. He played for the New Mexico Junior College, Northwest College, and then two years at the University of Oregon.
Unfortunately, an injury prevented Chris Boucher from being drafted into the NBA in 2017.
However, this did not stop Chris Boucher. After playing one year with the Golden State Warriors farm team, he then signed a two-way contract with the Toronto Raptors.
This would be where everything would change for Chris Boucher.
Chris Boucher would terrorize the G-League as a member of the Raptors 905, the Toronto Raptors G-League affiliate.
Last season Chris Boucher was named the G-League’s MVP and Defensive Player of the Year.
This includes Chris Boucher’s 15-point performance against the Los Angeles Lakers, which included a block against NBA great LeBron James.
Chris Boucher would have been the best current player from the city of Montreal and the province of Quebec. However, that honor right now goes to Khem Birch who got his chance as an NBA player for the Orlando Magic.
Khem Birch, like the other two players, was not drafted at the NBA Draft. Here is a quote from John Denton on the Orlando Magic website:
“That was rough and everybody was sad just because I really thought that I was ready,’’ Birch said of being passed over by NBA teams. “People had told me I was not ready, and not getting drafted proved them right. But I’m a patient guy and someone who doesn’t want to rush things. I just know that now they can’t tell me I’m not ready.’’
He would then go to play professionally in Europe. He got the attention of Frank Vogel and came to the Orlando Magic.
Since then Khem Birch has taken his game to another level, as Frank Vogel explains
“Active – that’s the word with Khem Birch. He’s just so active defensively, being all over the place, showing, recovering and using his speed, hitting people on the glass and making good plays,’’ Vogel raved about the center, who had four points, eight rebounds and a steal on Monday in Chicago and the Magic were a plus-11 on the scoreboard in his nearly 26 minutes on the floor. “And he’s very active on the offensive glass, giving us a big lift and we’re very high on him.’’
The amazing thing is that all three Montreal-based players were overlooked by both NBA coaches and staff. They all had to make a name for themselves either at the G-League level or in Europe.
This is also the top of the iceberg as NBA scouts should expect more players to come from Montreal and Quebec.
The Rise of Basketball in Quebec
Just like Toronto had a decade of several NBA players being drafted into the NBA, the same could be true for Montreal.
As mentioned before, the goal is to have five NBA players come from Quebec by 2023 in addition to Chris Boucher and Khem Birch.
Even more promising is what Luguentz Dort feels how Quebec would fare against Ontario and Toronto:
“Every time we heard about Toronto… they were just bigger than us,” Dort said. “Now, I just feel like we don’t really care about that anymore.”
Barthélémy also thinks that Quebec could beat Ontario in a province-versus-province showdown. This was something he could not say 5-10 years ago.
Nelson Ossé believes the level of coaching needs to be improved, one way is to get the prime minister’s attention on this matter.
A way to get funding from the prime minister is to get a medal in the Summer Olympics. Both the Canadian Men’s and Women’s teams are heading into Olympic Qualifiers in February and June in hopes of qualifying for the Olympics.
A professional basketball team in the province of Quebec would also be beneficial.
Pro Basketball Prospects in Quebec
Unfortunately for Montreal, there does not seem to be much movement for a basketball team in the two Canadian basketball leagues. There was a movement for an NBL of Canada team in Laval (a suburb of Montreal) in 2018, but it did not come to fruition.
However, according to CBC Sports Devin Heroux, the Canadian Elite Basketball League is looking at Quebec City, the Quebec capital.
There has not been a pro basketball team in Quebec since the Montreal Jazz folded in 2013. The Quebec Kebs that resided in Quebec City folded in 2012. Both teams were members of the National Basketball League of Canada.
The good news for Quebec basketball fans was the birth of the Ottawa BlackJacks in the CEBL. Although Ottawa is in Ontario, they border one of the largest cities in Quebec called Gatineau.
“We felt that the community of Ottawa and the greater area of the Gatineau region and everywhere in this vicinity was ready for some really good professional basketball,” Morreale said Monday evening.
“It’s a market that we have been looking at for quite some time, even well before we ever tipped off.”
There have also even been discussions of bringing an NBA team into Montreal according to The Associated Press.
Montreal NBA Team
When talking about bringing an NBA team in Montreal, it is on no one’s shortlist. It is a city overshadowed by fellow Canadian city Vancouver who lost their NBA team to Memphis in 2001.
However, much to Montreal’s benefit, the NBA is not expected to expand anytime soon. Montreal is not as high on the radar as they should be for NBA expansion right now.
This gives Montreal time to increase their player pool enough to be considered a serious NBA expansion candidate. They will most likely be a big contender for an NBA team whenever that happens.
Either way, there is no questioning that Montreal could become the only city outside of the Greater Toronto Area to produce several NBA players in Canada.
The golden age of Montreal and Quebec basketball is taking shape and NBA executives should start to take notice.
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