Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A year or two ago, not many people in the basketball world knew much about the CIA Bounce AAU program.
On Monday, the program’s Nike-sponsored 16U team fought back from a 15-0 deficit to beat Garner Road Elite, 66-55, to win the Gold championship at the AAU Super Showcase in Kissimmee, Fla., in front of a Who’s Who of coaches, including Roy Williams, Tom Izzo and Jamie Dixon.
They were led by 28 points and 13 rebounds from 6-foot-7 2014 small forward Andrew Wiggins, 16 points from 6-3 2014 shooting guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes and 15 from 6-2 2013 point guard Tyler Ennis. The victory capped a perfect 8-0 showing for CIA Bounce, which became the first Canadian team ever to win the prestigious event.
“It means a lot because now everyone has to respect us,” said Ennis, a rising junior at St. Benedict’s Prep. “They know we can play now.”
“It’s great for the kids and the program to win such a prestigious event and put our name in the conversation as one of the top programs in AAU basketball,” added Mike George, co-founder of CIA Bounce.
“We’re finally on the map with some big wins,” added Tony McIntyre, head coach of the 16U team and the program’s co-founder.
College coaches flock to watch the CIA Bounce 16U team because of players like Wiggins, Ennis, Rathan-Mayes, 6-8 2013 power forward Nick Madray, 6-7 2013 power forward Isaiah Watkins, 6-5 2013 small forward R.J. Currington and 7-3 2013 center Tanveer Bhullar.
“They are explosive at every position,” said one Division 1 assistant coach who watched the final. “They showed a lot of poise getting into a 15-0 hole and climbing out. You get the feeling watching them that they could go all day.”
The CIA Bounce 17U team features 7-5 Sim Bhullar, who has committed to Xavier, and 6-8 Anthony Bennett, who is being heavily pursued by Pitt, West Virginia, UConn, Florida, Missouri, Marquette, Ohio State, Kentucky and Washington.
“We started out with these kids real young, grades 3 and 4,” McIntyre said. “And we knew it was going to come. Our first graduating class was last year with Melvin Ejim (Iowa State), Dylan Ennis (Rice) this year. Those were the first group that really got to come through the system. And now we’re with our 2012s, our 2013s, 2014s, we just have a huge pipeline of kids that are going to go on to do big things.”
CIA Bounce is now in its seventh season on the AAU circuit after the merging of George’s CIA (Characteristics Inspiring Achievement) and McIntyre’s Bounce.
“We always kept competing and playing each other in the finals,” George said. “We had our rivalry and a lot of the kids were friends, they live close to each other. So we said, ‘Hey, why don’t we just do this and put it together.’ It works better for the kids, not necessarily our own egos.”
Said McIntyre: “Our philosophy really is making sure the kids are in the right situation, making sure the kids are looked after, making sure they pick the right colleges for their athletic abilities and their strengths or weaknesses.”
“That’s our primary focus, is to make sure that they’re ready for college and that all of our kids have a chance to get a scholarship.”
So loaded is the Canadian talent pool that there was something of a struggle over which players competed with the Canadian U19 team at the FIBA World Championships in Latvia and which went with CIA Bounce to the Peach Jam.
“There was a couple guys that they obviously wanted [for the World Championships], Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett,” McIntyre said. “But they had to finish up some school stuff.”
Instead, the team was led by Sim Bhullar and Huntington (West Va.) Prep teammates Stefan Jankovic and Negus Webster-Chan. Bhullar and Jankovic then played with the 17U team after arriving late to the Peach Jam.
In February, George and McIntyre met in Canada with George Raveling and MarkBayne of Nike, which ultimately led to Nike opting to sponsor the program.
“I think right now if you look at the kids that they have,” said Bayne, Nike’s North America Basketball Field Representative, “they have some of the best kids that are coming up,”
Bayne added that “basketball will always be behind hockey in Canada,” but that hoops is spreading in Canada due to the presence of the Toronto Raptors “in their back yard.”
During last month’s NBA Draft, Tristan Thompson, who was trained by McIntyre, went No. 4 overall, and fellow Canadian Cory Joseph was also drafted.
“Definitely I think that’s going to fuel a lot of guys and give these guys something to look forward to,” Bayne said.
**St. Benedict’s loading up on Canadians
(Photos courtesy ESPNRise)
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.