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AAU Insider: Grassroots Canada
By: Barry Hayes
Tristan Thompson
Tristan Thompson

As far as team competition in the AAU circuit down south, no Canadian team has shown better than Grassroots Canada over the last few years. Grassroots took the USA by storm last year, racking up several championships along the way with rosters loaded with talent. After their biggest win one year ago at the Adidas Super 64, becoming the first Canadian AAU team to win one of the major July tournaments in Las Vegas, what can they do for an encore?

Name: Grassroots Canada
Founded: 1992
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Main sponsor: Adidas
Team website: www.grassrootscanadabasketball.com
Famous Alumni: Denham Brown, Vidal Massiah, Dean Walker, Damian Reid, Wayne Smith, Terry Licorish, Duane John, Devoe Joseph, Junior Cadougan, Olu Ashaolu, DJ Wright, Marvell Waithe, Antwi Atuahene, Theo Davis, Jason Calliste
17U (Ro Russell, Nate Philippe, Nick Thomas)
16U (Wells Davis Sr., Anthony Otto)
15U (Ro Russell, Delroy Williams)
14U (Nate Philippe, Nick Thomas)

July/August Schedule:
July 6-8 (Adidas It Takes 5 Classic in Cincinnati, Ohio)
July 10-12 (Basketbull’s First Eight in Springfield, Massachusetts)
July 13-15 (Best Buy Classic in Minneapolis, Minnesota)
July 22-26 (Adidas Super 64 in Las Vegas, Nevada)
August 4-9 (Adidas Nations World Championships in Dallas, Texas)

17-and-Under Grassroots Canada Roster (* may prep in 2009-10)
Tristan Thompson
6’9” PF (Brampton, ON) – Class of 2010
Cory Joseph 6’2” CG (Ajax, ON) – Class of 2010
Myck Kabongo 6’2” PG (Toronto, ON) – Class of 2011
Dwight Powell 6’10” PF (Toronto, ON) – Class of 2010
Brady Heslip 6’1” PG (Burlington, ON) – Class of 2009*
Jean-Paul Kambola 6’10” C (Toronto, ON) – Class of 2010
Josh Biber 6’6” SF (Lorain, Ohio) – Class of 2009*
Renaldo Dixon 6’8” C (Toronto, ON) – Class of 2009
Shamar Bennett 6’3” SG (Mississauga, ON) – Class of 2010
Junior McLeod 6’7” PF (Brampton, ON) – Class of 2010

Don’t be surprised if we repeat,” said Grassroots founder and 17U/15U head coach Ro Russell about the upcoming defence of their Super 64 AAU championship.

The win last year was historical, but this could be as good due to the size and talent. There are huge shoes to fill, though.”

Russell is making a good case for putting together the most talented starting lineup at the 17U level in Canadian AAU history. After helping Canada’s U19 team finish seventh at the World Championships in New Zealand last week, the two top-rated Canadians in the Class of 2010, Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson, are back with their sights set on AAU dominance. Joseph averaged 13.6 points and 4.1 rebounds in New Zealand, while Thompson battled a bad ankle sprain that saw him miss almost two entire games, but still finished with averages of 8.6 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. Both are among the most respected talents in the United States. Thompson’s schedule of individual and team camps and tournaments (see below) over the past few months is absolutely gruelling to keep him among the continent's top stars.

While Thompson returns from last year’s Vegas team with fellow University of Texas-bound superstar Myck Kabongo, Joseph (with major D1 interest from schools such as UNLV, Villanova, Florida, Texas, California, UCLA, Louisville, Syracuse, etc.) will be making his debut after taking last year off due to summer school. The same is true for centre Jean-Paul Kambola (Villanova, DePaul, Rice, St. John’s, Seton Hall). Also back from last year’s frightening frontcourt are Dwight Powell (Stanford, Harvard, Georgia Tech, Florida, Marquette, etc.) and possibly Renaldo Dixon, if he hasn’t signed anywhere yet. Put them together with talented role players off the bench and you have all the size, athleticism, depth, and hunger a team needs to get through the physically punishing AAU tournament schedules.

However, the biggest surprise of the past two weeks has been the emergence of point guard Brady Heslip. With the It Takes 5ive Classic in Cincinnati as the big opening draw for Division 1 coaches in this month's evaluation period, Grassroots would be looking for lesser-known talents to step up and carry on the winning tradition. Joseph and Thompson were in New Zealand, while Kabongo and Powell were attending LeBron James’ individual camp. With Heslip getting most of the attention, Grassroots made the semifinals of a loaded draw.

He was playing at Cory and Myck’s level,” said Russell regarding Heslip’s play in Cincinnati and the First Eight tournament in Springfield, Massachusetts. After finalizing his list of schools back in April and committing to the University of Guelph for next fall, Heslip wanted another chance on the AAU stage.

What a story of development. From CIS to high-major Division 1. He now has interest from Boston College, Miami, Cincinnati, Gonzaga, Rice, and a bunch more will be calling.”

Tristan Thompson’s Schedule

April 17-19, Real Deal on the Rock AAU tournament (Little Rock, Arkansas)
April 24-26, Adidas Nations Camp (Las Vegas, Nevada)
May 22-24, Bob Gibbons’ Tournament of Champions (North Carolina)
May 29-31, Adidas Nations Camp (Portland, Oregon)
June 8-14, Douai World Junior Tournament (Douai, France)
June 17-21, NBA Players’ Association Top 100 Camp (Charlottesville, Virginia)
June 22, U19 Junior National Team Camp (Toronto, Ontario)
June 23-25, Vince Carter Skills Academy Camp (Orlando, Florida)
June 26-July 12, FIBA U19 World Championships (Auckland, New Zealand)
July 22-26, Adidas Super 64 Tournament (Las Vegas, Nevada)
August 4-9, Adidas Nations World Championships (Dallas, Texas)

As far as the best up-and-coming talent in the Grassroots system, Russell says watch for the 14U team.

They will be as good, if not better, than last year’s (17U) team or this year’s (17U) team at the same age.”

Look out for the youngest player on the team, 6’4” Andrew Wiggins, an ultra-athletic wing that will get all kinds of hype nationally once he gets seen in high-profile events and word begins to spread from coast-to-coast. Wiggins, whose father played in the NBA and mother won Olympic medals for Canada in sprinting, has the gene pool to go very far with basketball. Also leading the team will be 6’0” combo guard Micqueel Martin with his impressive athleticism and power, while 6’3” small forward MiKyle McIntosh brings versatility and poise.

Picture of Tristan Thompson by FIBA.com