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.
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Canadian Prep Stars Murray, Alexander Racking Up Offers While Staying North of the Border (UPDATED)
The other day a recruiting analyst took to Twitter to write, “Someone needs to get ’16 wing Jamal Murray into an American HS. CIA Bounce star is one of best Canada has right now.”
“I didn’t see anything because I don’t have Twitter. I don’t pay attention to any of that,” Murray, a 6-foot-5 guard from Kitchener, Ontario who is considered one of the top prospects in the Class of 2016, told SNY.tv by phone.
There is little doubt that Murray could have had his choice of elite American basketball programs had he opted to go that route. He recently picked up scholarship offers from Michigan State and Illinois, and has interest from Syracuse, Michigan, Florida State and Virginia Tech, among others.
“He had a lot of options [for high school],” Tony McIntyre, who coaches Murray on the CIA Bounce AAU team, told SNY.tv.
Several of Murray’s fellow Canadians have moved South of the Border for high school in recent years, including Anthony Bennett, the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft who played for Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep; Andrew Wiggins, the potential No. 1 pick in this year’s draft who played at Huntington (W.V.) Prep; and potential lottery pick Tyler Ennis, McIntyre’s son who competed at Newark (N.J.) St. Benedict’s Prep.
But Murray plays for Athlete Institute, a prep school in Orangeville, Ontario, and says he has no plans of leaving anytime soon.
“Mostly to get my grades up, to keep them up and [to] have more academic help and really just to get better and try a new experience with prep basketball,” Murray said of his and his family’s reasoning for attending Athlete Institute, which is about an hour and a half from his home.
The players attend Orangeville District Secondary School and compete for the prep team which is associated with the school. The program’s Website boasts a 7-acre campus complete with “private bathrooms” and even a “personal chef” who prepares dinner Monday-Thursday nights.
Athlete Institute is owned by the Tipping Family, which also owns a franchise in the National Basketball League of Canada (NBL).
Roger Murray, Jamal’s father, told SNY.tv last September he decided to send his son to the school for a mix of athletics and academics.
“Basketball-wise, the facility is great,” Roger said. “And that’s what he’s looking for, somewhere he can concentrate on his academics and train at the same time more intense.
“Basketball-wise, going to the States right now…it’s five hours, six hours away. It’s hard to keep track of everything that he needs.”
McIntyre and Larry Blunt, the coach of Athlete Institute and a CIA Bounce assistant, wanted to create a place where homegrown Canadian talent could stay and flourish — without having to leave for the Findlay Preps, Huntington Preps and St. Benedict’s Preps of the world. (Those schools still have numerous Canadian players, including some, like Huntington Prep star Montaque Gill-Caesar, who play for CIA Bounce.)
And Murray — and his teammates — have bought in.
“I’m trying to make it as big as it can be and just trying to rep it well,” Murray said. “It’s always good to give back.”
By playing with CIA Bounce on the Nike EYBL circuit — including this weekend’s stop in Minneapolis — Murray and his teammates have gained the attention of basketball coaches from around the nation.
Murray has visited Syracuse for Midnight Madness and he’s also been to Michigan, Georgetown and N.C. State, but says he’s not really focused on recruiting at this point.
“I would like to see more schools,” he said.
He added: “I still have lots of high school left so I don’t really pay attention to [recruiting]. I don’t have enough time and there’s no point right now.”
Said McIntyre, whose son is about to be picked in the first round of the Draft: “I think Jamal is going to be a high-high major recruit. I really think he’s the best point guard in high school basketball, to be honest. The stuff he can do at his height at 6-5 and being a point guard, he’s got a lot of similarities to some other great point guards that have come out of our program.”
Another player flourishing at Athlete Institute is 6-10, 200-pound center Kyle Alexander, a native of Mississauga, Ontario whose older sister, Kayla, played at Syracuse and is now in the WNBA. Kyle has a 7-4 wingspan, Blunt said.
Like Murray, Alexander said he never considered attending high school in the U.S.
“No, not really,” he said. “I’m really close to my family and I came to visit the campus and it was a really good facility and it had a lot to offer. And I can see myself improving and getting better here.”
Alexander said if Athlete Institute was an option a few years ago, Bennett, Wiggins and Ennis might have stayed home.
“Yeah, I think it’s definitely a possibility,” Alexander said. “The school has a lot to offer and a lot of people would want to come here.”
Alexander has only been playing organized basketball for a year and a half — and has suddenly burst onto the national recruiting radar.
Alexander this week picked up offers from Wake Forest and Virginia Tech and also has interest from Syracuse and Illinois.
“My sister went to Syracuse so I’ve been there plenty of times,” he said. “My sister went on her official visit there and I went with her.”
Alexander said he doesn’t know much about Wake Forest, but that he hopes to visit more schools this summer.
“This whole process is just new to Kyle,” Blunt said. “He’s played two or three weeks on the circuit with us and what has happened is, Kyle has continued to grow. For him his growth has been incredible to see….
“Kyle can run like most guards. And he really can defend one through five and he pretty much blocks everything that gets thrown up, so I think a lot of people are intrigued with his length, his ability to run, his athleticism. He’s probably gained 10 pounds since he’s been here. He’s just continued to develop each and every day which is kind of exciting.”
Said McIntyre: “He’s really new. Once everyone gets their eyes on him and pays attention to him, he’s going to be a high commodity for these schools to want to work with and develop.
“I’m not saying he’s Joel Embiid, but [it’s a] similar fashion where he started really late and kind of snuck up on people late. And I think that’s what Kyle’s going to do as well.”
And for now, both Alexander and Murray will be repping not only a Canadian AAU team, but a high school as well.
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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.