Growing up in Canada, like so many other aspiring basketball players that pushed themselves every waking moment to become the best they could be, I held the dream of playing in the NBA close to my heart. Unfortunately, I also held the knowledge of how farfetched such a leap would be, a knowledge that was nothing short of dream shattering as it really began to sink in during my later teens. Raised within a family where the passion for the sport bordered on obsession, it only made sense that somewhere along the line during my early years I picked up a basketball on the playground and decided that it was my favorite toy. After the passing of my father, seeing that having some kind of constructive outlet would be best for such a young child, my uncle, who played professionally in Bosnia, along with the rest of my family, saw it fit that I become involved in organized basketball.
Over the years, the game brought me many great memories and lessons that I would take with me for the rest of my life, from the perseverance that one must show in the face of adversity and the rewards of hard work and dedication to something you put your full effort towards achieving. That said, as I became more obsessed with the dream of one day playing professionally, the insurmountable odds of such a dream being achieved really began creeping into the forefront. If I was being honest with myself at the time, I would have looked at my abilities and the cards that I had been dealt in life and realized that I didn't have a chance of making that dream a reality. At the end of the day, though I was 6'6 and had put in plenty of work over the years both technically and physically to become the player that I aspired to be, I would still lose just about every footrace and struggle to clear a small-town phonebook on a day that my body felt right. All of that said, until I allowed that dream shattering realization to take away my dream, I still worked tirelessly for it.
While I can only speak for myself, it wasn't so much the realization of my physical limitations that destroyed my hopes as much as it was the understanding at the time that even with all of the hard work that I could put in, no one would be there to see it and reach out to pull me into the next stage of journey if I had proved myself worthy of it. Though not exactly a great comparison, looking at it like a handicapped game of Monopoly is a good way of looking at the prospects of coming out of Canada in those days. Basketball, like anything else, is a competition in which the cream of the crop eventually rises to the top, that top being division one and, if you prove yourself elite at that level, the NBA. If we were to look at the sport like a game of Monopoly, in which winning would translate into making it to the NBA, a player aspiring to such a dream from Canada would be one that would play the entire course of the game without picking up $200 after passing go. Sure, with enough lucky bounces of the dice and some savvy business, winning the game is still very possible. That said, the odds are really stacked against you. It's something that should never have been a factor in so many careers ending prematurely but sadly, many others faced that same bleak reality as well. Unfortunately, unless you had the privilege of ending up on a travel team that ventured into the states for exposure, you were essentially playing for a half empty gym full of people that would forget anything meaningful you had accomplished during the game by the time dinner rolled around. When it came to eyes that would care, they were on the other side of the border and in all honesty, it was crushing.
Though I realistically never had a shot at playing division one, I still remember watching my high school teammate and good friend shoot and score the ball better than I've ever seen anyone do so to this day. I remember watching him work tirelessly in the gym to improve his game and, to this day, see the passion and fire that he still holds for playing it. Unfortunately, I also remember recognizing the frustration that he felt over not getting the attention from the division one schools that he deserved. I'm not talking about some kid who was living in the clouds thinking he had a shot to play college ball in the states, I'm talking about someone who was definitely a division one player but that never got a chance to show it due to the lack of scouting in our country at the time. Fortunately, whereas we struggled with the notion that our hard work might never be recognized, the same can't be said for the youth that aspire to the very same dream on this day.
In recent times, seeing Canadian players has become more and more commonplace in the NCAA, with 97 suiting up for division one teams in 2014 alone. Likewise, with the likes of Tristan Thompson, Corey Joseph, Anthony Bennett, Andrew Wiggins, Nik Stauskas, and Tyler Ennis all being selected in the first round of the NBA draft over the course of the past three years, witnessing a Canadian put on an NBA jersey is slowly becoming the norm as well. A decade ago, one would hear about success stories like Denham Brown or watch the standouts, such as Steve Nash, Jamaal MaGloire and Todd MacCulloch, who beat the odds and made it to the NBA and know that the dream was somewhat possible. Today, one only has to look at the past few NBA drafts to understand the message loud and clear: if you work your tail off and are good enough, your dream can be made into a reality.
Many of the players listed above have pointed to the influence that Vince Carter made in the early part of the last decade on basketball in Canada as one of the reasons that they ultimately pursued and reached their goal. Now, with each of them beginning or well on their way to a successful career in the NBA, it is their presence that will further fuel the next generation of Canadian prospects to strive for the same goal. As many can attest to who went through the same frustration, there was a time when working hard and being great at the game wasn't enough if you lived in Canada and dreamed of playing in the NBA. It was a time when many hoop dreams weighed down by doubt and uncertainty which crushed many aspirations before they were fully stretched out. That time is over.