Canada has had a good year.
Andrew Wiggins claimed Rookie of the Year in the NBA. The Toronto Raptors made the NBA playoffs. Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista immortalized himself with an unforgettable bat flip against the Rangers in game five of the ALDS. For the first time, Toronto announced it would be hosting NBA All-Star weekend.
Justin Bieber — love or hate him — made a big comeback at college bars and parties all across the globe with his new hit single What Do You Mean? Drake broke the Internet (again) with his catchy, dance provoking, Director X produced Hotline Bling video that reminded everyone how viral and entertaining a well-made GIF could be.
“I always look back there and see what’s going on,” Oregon sophomore guard Dillon Brooks said of his home country. “Good things are going on over there. I just love being a part of it. I love helping the cause for it. It’s just a great feeling.”
But here’s what you may not have known about Canada’s memorable year: Its senior national team sidelined Team USA in the semifinals of the Pan American Games en route to a silver medal finish.
On that team was Brooks, a Mississauga, Ontario native who enters his sophomore season at Oregon with two years of international experience — U-19 and the Pan American Games with Team Canada.
Brooks is one player among a growing class of hungry, Canadian-born, NBA-ready prospects that aren’t afraid to push the status quo in an American-dominated sport.
Two-time NBA MVP and Canadian-born Steve Nash has taken notice.
“It’s really cut across all segments of the population and is growing like wildfire,” Nash told The Canadian Press.
Recently, the NBA has welcomed the likes of Wiggins, Corey Joseph, Anthony Bennett and Tristan Thompson into its elite fraternity.
“With Canada basketball being on the rise, with the Raptors coming in there and starting to experience success at the time, that’s — if you’re a young boy — very influential to your life, especially if you grow to love the game,” Findlay Prep Coach Andy Johnson said. “That’s what happened with Dillon.”
Brooks, who was born right around the time the Toronto Raptors were founded in 1995, grew up during a time when basketball was beginning to take off in Canada. He takes pride in the country’s growing representation in the sport.
“I love Canada,” Brooks said. “I always wear it on my chest. It’s just a great feeling playing for your country, for the red and white. With Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and those guys, it just shows you that you can make it in the NBA. It just gives us hope that you make it there, make a lot of money and play a job that you love.”
Brooks had a productive offseason. In concert with his international play with Team Canada in the Pan American Games was an improved diet, fitness and overall development of his athleticism and fundamentals.
Playing alongside a player like Jamal Murray — a highly touted prospect committed to Kentucky — Brooks exposed himself to a higher level of basketball.
While Brooks grabbed Pac-12 All Freshman honors and finished as the No. 3 freshman scorer in the conference with the Ducks last season (11.5 PPG), he still felt like making a drastic physical change.
For Brooks, who has always been known for his top-notch work ethic, this offseason was a reflection of his determination to not become complacent.
“When the season was done, I went through — I wouldn’t say a diet — but a life change,” Brooks said. “I just added more vegetables, less carbs, more protein. When I got back here, everyone realized I was skinny. I didn’t realize it till I went back to scale and saw I was 220 [pounds].”
From Canadian AAU powerhouse CIA Bounce to Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nevada, Brooks has always made sure to surround himself with a passionate basketball community — he comes from a family without a background in the sport.
At Findlay Prep, a national powerhouse based 20 minutes outside of Las Vegas that had recently won three of the last four National High School Invitational championships, Brooks got his first taste of what it would be like to play in a college-like environment.
Said Findlay Prep Coach Andy Johnson: “When you have 12 guys that will go on to play Division I basketball, all on the same team, all living together, they’re going to push each other.”
Brooks roomed with current NBA players Rashad Vaughn (Milwaukee Bucks, 17th pick in 2015 draft) and Kelly Oubre (Washington Wizards, 15th pick in 2015 draft).
“That’s what you want to do: surround yourself with the best possible. Just being around the NBA feel, culture, makes you want to go to the NBA, makes you want to get ready for them,” Brooks said.
Brooks’ story is one that epitomizes the saying, “show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” Coming from a family that hadn’t had any prior ties to the basketball community, Brooks had to rely on his own intuition and gut to sort out his inner circle.
“He had a lot of the right people around that helped him to get to where he is,” Brooks’ mother Diane said. “His whole circle, even circle of friends, everyone is basketball related.”
As a sophomore, Brooks has continued to form those bonds with like-minded, hardworking individuals.
Recently, that list includes reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year and current Indiana Pacer Joseph Young, who he still keeps in contact with, and Nash, a model figure growing up in Canada that he texts regularly since meeting him at the Pan American Games.
Brooks is a byproduct of Canada’s growing love for the game of basketball. With the growing popularity of the Raptors, the country up north has slowly but surely ascended to heights only Canadians might have seen coming. From this standpoint, Brooks owes a lot of his current and future successes to good fortune and timing.
Before the Raptors, before Wiggins and Bennett went No. 1 overall in consecutive NBA Drafts, hockey dominated the attention of Canadian sports fans. But now, Canadian basketball is more than ready to take its next step. It’s a step that includes grooming and promoting rising names like Brooks. It’s a step that requires the support of good company — the very basis of Brooks’ past, present and potentially bright future.
“Canada basketball is on the rise,” Dillon said. “It’s scary to look at it because there’s a lot of young talent there and they’re all watching us in the NCAA, in the NBA, so we just got to put on and show them that they can make it too. The NBA is a long-term goal [for me].”
“I think he sees it, the light’s at the end of the tunnel,” CIA Bounce Coach Tony McIntyre said. “The sky is the limit for him. He’s still so young and he’s putting it all together so early. He’s seen it. He’s talked to the guys that have gone through it. There’s nothing that’s going to come as a shock to him from this point on.”
Follow Hayden Kim on Twitter @HayDayKim