For Imad Qahwash it’s not a debate anymore — Nova Scotia is a basketball hotbed.
And for the Top 40 Basketball camp founder, that couldn’t be more exciting for his vision.
For the past six years, Qahwash has scoured the country in search of the absolute best talent coming through the Canadian high school pipeline. That ambitious journey has landed him an Adidas-sponsored identification basketball camp, a nationally established brand, and a bevy of high-level prospects unearthed along the way.
Now, Qahwash says, it’s the Maritimes’ turn — something long overdue in the 29-year-old’s eyes.
“I don’t really think Nova Scotia is so much under the radar anymore — at least in terms of talent. They’ve really put the whole nation on notice of what’s going on over there on the national stage, and as a matter of fact we’ll have the majority of the kids who won back-to-back national championships here at our camp,” Qahwash said, noting the camp already is sold out despite a scheduled date of June 9-11 at Saint Mary’s University.
“The social media and the attention to Canadian basketball is higher than ever but I can still emphasize with kids from Dartmouth, Bedford . . . where basketball isn’t necessarily considered a hotbed — at least for others that is — but there are still many good players.
“And that’s the thing. There are good players everywhere, it’s just a matter of exposing them now to the proper identification and professional skill development, competition level and competition level and recognizing the work they’ve put in year round.”
With the Top 40 Camp, Qahwash — a six-year international pro player — has managed to see his off-season brainchild come to life in just a matter of years.
The camp, the Kitchener native says, was originally created to provide his hometown’s 40 best junior high school players (Grades 9-10) with an elite-level environment alongside some of the region’s best coaches, players and scouts.
Since then the brand — and the program’s initiative — has expanded on a national level and is planned for stops in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Montreal, Saskatchewan, and much of Ontario this summer.
Last year the businessman even expanded to China while partnering with sportswear company Peak to launch a related initiative dubbed No Borders Basketball.
And with all that rapid movement, Basketball Nova Scotia’s Ryan Dickison said his organization was eager to jump in and help the region with the unique experience.
“There were a few components of the camp that caught our attention after having done our research. They operate slightly different than some other identification camps that have been held in this region and with that we know it will help to keep our athletes attentive and engaged,” said Dickison, operations manager of Basketball Nova Scotia — the province’s official governing body for the sport.
“A lot of research was put into this decision (to partner up with the Top 40 program) and from all of the coaches and players we’ve spoken with we’ve heard a lot of benefit coming from the experience, so we’re excited that we get to have another set of eyes and people come see the great product Nova Scotia has to offer.”
Jamal Murray (Kitchener, Ont.) — now a member of the Denver Nuggets of the NBA — is the prized possession of the camp, having been discovered in its inaugural year and shortly after gaining traction on the national stage. However — ironically enough — despite the camp’s first visit to Halifax, there is also a Bluenoser connection with the province’s most renowned high school baller at the moment, Lindell Wigginton (Dartmouth).
“Lindell was in Toronto playing in an AAU tournament and he just so happened to be staying there for the weekend so we invited him even though he wasn’t from the region. We made an exception having known of him. On his part, he definitely showed a lot of interest to come to camp and he didn’t disappoint,” Qahwash said, noting 45 former alumni having gone on to play post-secondary basketball across the U.S. and Canada.
“We could tell he was on another level as a 10th grader — not just skill-wise but his attention to detail, athleticism, and his work ethic was second to none, and he’s just a great kid. He always re-tweets and is liking our tweets so we know he has a lot of support for the program and we have nothing but great things to say about him.”
With the 40 best players in the region having already been selected, coaches and spectators can expect to see some of the high school scene’s top performers, including Kellen Tynes.
As to who exactly will be watching?
Qahwash urges players to simply focus between the lines.
“Our numbers and statistics have shown that if you get an MVP or an all-star at this (camp), chances are you have a real shot at not only making the next level but having a big impact there,” he said.
“It’s pretty a unique experience in that we are looking at Grade 9s and 10s here so it takes some time to blossom and develop after the camp. But we just want to go to each region and help kick-start that if we can. We’re happy to help along the journey and we know there are great local coaches who will do the same.
“That’s why the Top 40 has been such a success, because we’re all in it together and are looking for one thing — the long-term growth of the players.”