The announcement of a new elite high school basketball league in Ontario has the basketball community buzzing and eager for the league’s 2015-2016 inaugural season. The OSBA – Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association – has been developed out of a partnership between Ontario Basketball and Pretty River Sports & Entertainment in response to a growing demand for an improved system in elite high school basketball. In its first season the league will consist of 8 teams and will aim to add a girls’ division for the 2016-2017 season.
The goal of the new high school ‘super league’ is to keep Canada’s top basketball talent north of the border by offering the development and exposure opportunities necessary to excel at the next level.
The draw of the world leading American system is clear. But what is it about the Canadian system that has been compelling our top athletes to leave before the completion of their high school careers?
The current system does not provide enough opportunity for elite athletes and limits their development potential in Canada.
Although the strength of Canadian basketball is at an all-time high, the highly dispersed population of Canada means that most high school leagues are relatively weak from top to bottom. When elite athletes are forced to practice and play against weak competition they are missing out on daily opportunities to improve and realize their full potential. Subpar facilities, coaching staffs, and therapy can also limit a player’s growth. Here is where the elite athlete’s dilemma emerges. Strict transfer policies in Ontario high school basketball prevent athletes from seeking out better opportunities for development. If athletes want to transfer to a more competitive league or superior basketball program in Ontario they are forced to sit out an entire year. Not an option for most serious ballers. So they head to a prep school south of the border with hopes of earning a Division I scholarship. A lot of the time this works out for the athlete, but Canadian basketball loses.
The OSBA aims to keep Canada’s top talent at home by providing an elite league with high standards. For acceptance into the league, teams must go through an intensive application process providing information on:
Mission, vision and values
Five-year strategic plan
Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) compliance
Proof of financial stability
Projected two-year budget
Staff members and their qualifications
Coaching assessment and development plan
Technical development plan
Strength and conditioning program
Medical access, therapy and Injury prevention
Nutrition and lifestyle management
The OSBA will only accept programs that demonstrate the ability to meet standards in these areas. Furthermore, to ensure academics remain a priority, programs will be required to regularly submit athletes’ grades to the OSBA. This is to ensure athletes remain eligible for post-secondary institutions. Athletes need to be in good academic standing to be eligible for competition. The OSBA is focussed on providing its athletes the best opportunity to excel at the next level.
Specifically, how will the OSBA affect Canadian basketball?
1. Canada’s top talent will have the opportunity to train and compete at the highest level.
Everyone knows to be the best you have to train and compete against the best. Canada has a lot of basketball talent right now. In getting all the best players on the same teams and in the same league the competitive landscape of basketball in Canada will be raised to provide highest level of player development.
2. Less restrictive transfer policies will allow players to seek out the program that best fits their individual needs.
If a player has a bad experience or simply sees a better opportunity with another program, they are free to transfer. The player must sit out 30 calendar days to play in league games and must play in at least six regular season games to be eligible for playoffs. This is to ensure teams cannot load up with players right before playoffs. However, players should not be punished for seeking out a better opportunity.
3. Games will become events that feature top prospects, boost school pride and build a sense of community around high school basketball.
In current high school basketball, games are played right after classes, limiting the attendance at the games. Many parents and community members are still at work and students don’t want to hang around school for another couple hours. OSBA games will be played mid-week, in the evenings. This will turn these games into events and will allow parents and community members the ability to attend. Games featuring Canada’s top prospects will draw crowds and ignite a passion for basketball at the high school level. Additionally, by creating an event-like atmosphere with hype and large crowds, the OSBA aims to prepare athletes for the next level by eliminating the shock experienced by many freshmen stepping onto a big stage for the first time.
4. Exposure of athletes will increase.
With league games held at the same time, on the same day of the week, scouts will know where and when they can view Canada’s top basketball players in competition. Additionally, one featured OSBA game will be streamed live each week. Anyone can watch the game online from anywhere, for free.
5. The current high school system will become a development league to the OSBA.
With the top players competing to play in the OSBA, OFSAA will become something like a development league. This will raise the overall competitive level of basketball in Ontario and will ripple out through Canada.
6. New prep basketball programs will continue to emerge across Canada. The
Athlete Institute out of Orangeville, Ontario has demonstrated that a preparatory basketball program can thrive in the current Canadian basketball environment and has proven players no longer need to head south for the opportunity at a Division I scholarship. The Athlete Institute’s 2015 graduating class boasts numerous players with NCAA Division I scholarships: Jalen Poyser (UNLV), Jelani Mofford (UNC Greensboro), Alonzo Walker (Kent State), Kyle Alexander (University of Tennessee), Miles Seward (University of Northern Colorado) and Jamal Murray (University of Kentucky). As basketball continues to explode across Canada, prep schools will develop to meet the growing demand. Similar leagues will begin to form in other provinces and a stronger culture will form around elite Canadian high school basketball.
It is an exciting time for basketball in Canada.