Basketball has become a global game.
It is no longer just America’s game and we need to look no further than this year’s NBA draft in which 28 of the 60 players selected were born outside of the United States. That list included the Kentucky Wildcats' Jamal Murray, who was born in Kitchener, Ontario, which is an hour and change drive west of Toronto.
Many attribute the rapid ascension of the popularity of the professional game in Canada to the success of Vince Carter and his nightly highlight reel antics while playing for the Toronto Raptors. However, one of the more significant reasons for the massive influx of college players from the Toronto area can be attributed to the influence of former Kentucky Wildcat Jamaal Magloire.
Prior to his enrollment at Kentucky in 1996, there had been a handful of players born in Toronto who had made a name for themselves at other big name schools in the 80’s including Rick Fox at North Carolina and Leo Rautins at Syracuse. However, neither of those had the lasting impact of Magloire playing for Kentucky.
During Magloire’s time at Kentucky, coverage of the NCAA tournament became more commonplace on television in the hockey-dominated market as well as the advent of the internet which allowed other young men in the Toronto area to follow the "Big Cat’s" every game -- something that has helped changed the landscape of college basketball for the better.
Rick Pitino’s recruitment of the Eastern Commerce High School star was heavily covered by the local Toronto TV stations and newspapers throughout his senior season and it helped create awareness among many local athletes that not only could you obtain a scholarship to play basketball in the United States (something most Canadian universities still don’t offer student-athletes to this day), but that somebody from Toronto could play with the big boys in the Mecca of college basketball: Kentucky.
Prior to that, you may have heard of players from Toronto playing at smaller schools like Niagara or Canisius which are close to the border in upstate New York, but it was unthinkable for somebody from Toronto to play for Kentucky.
Aside from the direct line that can be drawn from Magloire to Jamal Murray at UK, there are approximately 100 players from the Toronto area currently playing NCAA Division I basketball. Pitino bringing Magloire to Kentucky was letting the cat out of the bag with respect to the talent level of players from the Toronto area. Many other coaches began to follow Pitino’s lead and an influx of NCAA coaches began to appear in gymnasiums all over Toronto.
Since Magloire’s impact at Kentucky, there have been two Toronto players selected first overall in the NBA Draft in Andrew Wiggins (2014) and Anthony Bennett (2013), as well as Murray being selected seventh overall in this year’s Draft. The NBA is also littered with several others from the Toronto area including Tristan Thompson (Cleveland), Tyler Ennis (Bucks), Nik Stauskas (76ers) to name a few.
Following his successful career at UK that saw him win a National Championship in 1998 under Tubby Smith, as well as becoming the program's all-time leader in blocks, the former All-SEC player was drafted in the first round of the 2000 NBA Draft. He was later voted to the 2004 All-Star game and played for seven different teams over his 12 year NBA career.
Magloire now works as an assistant coach and community ambassador for his hometown Toronto Raptors and continues to be a major influence on the game of basketball north of the border.