Published by Jason Gairey on July 13, 2010
Two teammates representing their country, both with exceptional skills, tremendous physical upside, and yet, are both unique in their own particular ways. Put them on the floor together and you end up giving opposing teams nightmares on both sides of the ball.
Hard to believe? Well, ask the likes of Teams Uruguay, Puerto Rico, Brazil and Argentina at the recent U18 FIBA Americas in San Antonio, Texas.
The summer for both these two has been nothing but eye opening for two of Canada’s rising high school basketball stars. Getting to play alongside high school phenom, and probably the most heralded point guard in the class of 2011, Myck Kabongo has given these two big bodies something to be smiling about after he’s dished them a few no-looks and an alley-oop or two.
Although both are bigs, the pair have shown a great deal of versatility and give you a whole different look at what 6’9” and 6’8” at 17 years of age can do. Head Coach of Canada’s U18 Junior National team attests to the bright future of Canada Basketball.
“National teams have been improving over terms of results over the last few years,” U18 Jr. National Head Coach, Greg Francis said. “It will take continued training and international exposure to get us back to the Olympics and these young athletes have the talent and the passion.”
At the U18 FIBA Americas, Wiltjer completely put on a show. He led Canada in scoring throughout the tournament, scorching every opposing country from anywhere on the floor.
What impressed many however, was his depth from the three point land, particularly because he was spotting up from NBA range, and even more jaw dropping, was his ability to clean up on the defensive boards and step up at crucial times, not being afraid to go at guys in the low post.
Wiltjer and Kabongo became a dangerous combination offensively, that had many Canadian hoop fans, grinning from ear to ear. With an invite to the NBA Top 100 Camp earlier in July, and a solid performance at the All Canada Classic as well, the Jesuit High School product and son of former national team center, 7’0” Greg Wiltjer, has NCAA scouts from many major D1 schools such as Gonzaga, Oregon and Stanford on the hunt for the big man.
“It was an honour to be recognized as one of the top players in Canada,” Wiltjer said. “At first I was nervous, not really knowing the guys, but after two weeks I felt like I knew these guys my whole life.”
Wiltjer couldn’t be happier playing alongside fellow Canadian 6’9” Khem Birch out of Quebec, helping clog the lanes with his keen ability to block shots and clean the glass. However, he is even more excited knowing that forward, Kevin Thomas out of Ajax, ON would also be on the frontlines along with them.
Thomas has been long awaiting his time to shine. The lanky forward, whose game is reminiscent of Scottie Pippen at times, has just had a phenomenal year.
Playing his high school ball at Christian Faith Academy in North Carolina for his Grassroots AAU coach Ro Russell, was just the beginning. This very raw and extremely athletic kid, who’s wingspan is a key attribute for his game, has been vital this summer for Team Canada.
Rebounding, blocking shots, and being aggressive on both offense and defense. Taking guys in the post or from the wing and seeing him get in the lanes in transition only to then explode to the hoop with an extra burst has been enjoyable to watch.
“It’s an honour to play for my country, its every basketball players dream,” Thomas says. “So I have to bring something to the table, and that’s my ability to get to the hoop, whether inside game or the perimeter.”
His quick and wiry frame enables him to get over defenders with his acrobatic moves and impressive leaping ability. Thomas’ improved play over the season had him at several elite exposure camps where he more than held his own, drawing attention from several NCAA schools as well, such as Cincinnati, Marquette, Temple, and UNC-Charlotte.
“We are all trying to use this as a tool to our future, and playing alongside each other, we all have one goal, to win gold!” Thomas said.
Both players, still young and growing, are a part of a generation of phenoms representing Canada, nationally, internationally and across the border in the U.S at their respective high schools.
Coming back home with a bronze medal finish at the U18 FIBA Americas in San Antonio this summer, along with qualifying for next summer’s FIBA U19 World Championships is a sign that Canada is opening eyes internationally.
“We had a lot of fun, and played well together. We’re glad we qualified for the Worlds next year, and like Kevin said, we are striving for the gold.” Wiltjer said.
Thomas and Wiltjer are at the top of a long, growing list of what’s trickling down from the north for years to come. A bond is being formed amongst them and they’re fellow Canadian teammates. A brotherhood.