This year produced the largest contingent of Canadian players ever in the NCAA tournament with 20, led by Texas Longhorns' standouts Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph. But Canadians are also making waves in the United States at the high school basketball level.
Three Canadians will play in the annual McDonald's All-American Game on Wednesday in Chicago. Myck Kabongo, a finalist for the U.S. high school player of the year; Kyle Wiltjer, the 2011 Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Oregon; and Kehm Birch, ranked 11th overall in ESPN's College Basketball Recruiting Rankings, were all named to the West team for Wednesday's game. Wiltjer was born in the US but is the son of former Canadian Men's National Team player Greg Wiltjer. The three players know each other well; they were teammates on Canada's Junior Men's National Team which won bronze at the 2010 FIBA Americas U18 Championship last summer.
Being named to the All-American team was a result of strong senior seasons in high school and a lot of hard work by the three young Canadians.
"It's very special," said Kabongo, a point guard originally from Toronto who ESPN calls arguably the best pure point guard in the class of 2011. "Kyle and Khem have been working really hard. We've all worked hard to get to this place, and such an event. It's a privilege to be sharing it with those two guys. Canada has something to smile about. We're just going to continue working hard and hopefully we can make you guys proud."
And while they continue to work hard, Wiltjer let it be known that the three young Canucks were definitely going to enjoy the experience as well.
"I'm just glad to be here with a couple of my teammates from Canada and we're just trying to live it up," said Wiltjer, who kicked things off on Monday by winning the three-point shootout competition.
The McDonald's All-American Game consists of the top high school basketball players and alumni of the game include NBA stars Kevin Durant
, Dwight Howard
, and LeBron James
"I think it's tremendous. This is one of the premiere events for all of high school, anywhere in North America," said Canadian national team coach and Toronto Raptors television analyst Leo Rautins. "So to have three Canadians, and quite honestly we could have had more, tells you just how the development is coming along, the character of these kids, and the quality of play. It's a great thrill to see these kids playing here."
"I'm a competitor, so when you're with the best it's a lot of fun," said Wiltjer. "It's fun getting to compete against the best and seeing how I fare up to them."
And while the all-star event could be a little daunting for a high school student, Birch said that there was a certain comfort level playing with two countrymen and former teammates.
"All three of us are on the same team so it feels like Canada," said Birch. "Our second lineup, it feels like it is Team Canada because it's all three of us versus the other players."