With the Toronto Raptors making their very first NBA Finals appearance, it’s time to acknowledge that basketball is reaching new heights in Canada. Because since the Raptors arrival to the NBA in 1995, the sport of basketball has continued to grow in the country. And just as we profiled some of the best ballers to come out of the Bay Area, we do the same for the Greater Toronto Area or GTA as it’s fondly known. Let’s jump right into it!
Arguably the most productive of the recent wave of Canadian basketball players is small forward Andrew Wiggins. He was born in Toronto, Ontario and raised in the neighboring town of Vaughan. For his first two years of high school he attended Vaughan Secondary School. There he absolutely dominated. In his sophomore year he led the team to a 44-1 record and an Ontario provincial championship.
After his amazing run at Vaughan Secondary, Wiggins transferred to Huntington St. Joseph Prep in West Virginia. He would continue his basketball dominance stateside. In his senior year he averaged 23.4 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.4 steals, and 2.6 blocks per game. And with that performance he won the 2013 Gatorade Athlete of the Year award. And being a top recruit in the nation, he chose to attend the University of Kansas.
Wiggins had an impressive career at Kansas averaging 17.1 points and 5.9 rebound per game. He also won numerous accolades during his time there. Those included an All-Big 12 first team selection and Big 12 Rookie of the Year award. After just one year at Kansas he entered the 2014 NBA draft and the Cleveland Cavaliers selected him in the first round, first overall. But after a three-team trade he was sent to the Minnesota Timberwolves before the season began. Wiggins went onto win the Rookie of the Year award for the 2014-2015 NBA season and he was named to the All-Rookie first team.
Wiggins just finished his fifth NBA regular season and averaged 18.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, while shooting 41.2% from the field. Although his Timberwolves squad has yet to win a playoff series, they are still young and trying to find their identity. And Wiggins is definitely a marquee player on that team.
Power forward Tristan Thompson may be in the news these days more for his off the court antics. But he is still one of the top players to come out of the GTA. He was born in Toronto and grew up in the nearby town of Brampton, Ontario. There he attended St. Marguerite d’Youville Secondary School for his freshman year of high school. But just like Wiggins, Thompson sought more exposure and moved stateside. First, he attended St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, New Jersey and then transferred to Findlay College Prep in Henderson, Nevada. He would end up committing to the University of Texas at Austin.
At Texas, Thompson would average 13.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game. He would also win a number of awards during his one and only season at the school. Among his accomplishments, he won Big 12 Rookie of the Year and was named to the Big 12 All-Defense and All-Freshman teams. Then after his freshman year, he declared for the 2011 NBA draft and the Cleveland Cavaliers selected him in the first round, fourth overall. At the time he was the highest draft pick ever for a Canadian. Thompson played all of his eight NBA seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers. And the height of his success was in 2016 when he won an NBA title alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
He may be known more as an actor these days, but former NBA small forward Rick Fox was another Canadian basketball pioneer back in the 1990s. Born in Toronto, he actually didn’t attend high school there. He spent two years in his father’s native land, attending school in Nassau, Bahamas; and then he spent two years playing stateside in Warsaw, Indiana. After a successful high school career in Indiana, he went on to play at the University of North Carolina.
Fox played at UNC for all four years from 1987-1991. In that time he averaged 12.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game while shooting 51.8% from the field. He also earned a number of accolades during his time at UNC. He was named to the All-ACC first team for the 1990-1991 season and he was also named ACC Tournament MVP that year. And after his college career, the Boston Celtics selected him in the 1991 NBA draft with the 24th overall pick in the first round.
Fox had his best seasons scoring-wise on the Celtics, averaging double-digits per game in three of those seasons. His best season was the 1996-97 season, in which he scored 15.4 points per game. However, the Celtics released him at the conclusion of that season. That was after six years with them. He then signed with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Although he was more of a role player on the Lakers alongside Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’ Neal, most NBA fans remember him as a member of those iconic squads. During those years the Lakers had a brilliant rivalry with their Western Conference foes, the Sacramento Kings. And Fox had his own personal rivalry with King’s guard Doug Christie. But the highlight of his time with the Lakers was their magnificent three-peat, winning three NBA titles from 2000-2002. And after 13 seasons in the NBA, Fox decided to call it quits and retire. A decision probably made a whole lot easier considering he had three championship rings to show for it!
GTA and Beyond
Although the GTA does not have as many NBA alumni as some other large metropolitan areas in North America, it is certainly making progress. From Rick Fox to Andrew Wiggins, fans have seen an increase in the level of skill from players coming out of the region. And with the Raptors now in the NBA Finals, it can only be expected to go up from there!