“Social media wasn’t as huge as it is today, you would hear whispers about the different talent throughout the city or country and how great these athletes are. The All Canada Classic was a time to come together and really get to see what all the hype was about. You got to see the best players in the country go head to head, and to be apart of an atmosphere of people who love the game it ultimately made the weekend that much better. The All Canada classic was one of those events you couldn’t miss, you were either vying for a spot to either be in it or watch it.” – Alisha Tatham (Canadian Olympian), 2004 ACC Alumni
The All Canada Classic was created to fill a void in many basketball communities across Canada. In 2000, Founders Wayne Dawkins and Saeed Al Naji recognized a need to create a larger platform to showcase the tremendous raw talent developing under the radar of NCAA scouts from the United States. For Dawkins, this was very important. His Grassroots Canada Basketball AAU (American Athletic Union) Club he co-founded was made up off mainly inner-city Toronto athletes who couldn’t afford top camps and programs that would give them opportunities to earn full scholarships to post-secondary institutions in the United States. Scholarships that could change their lives for the better forever.
“There was a need to celebrate Canada’s best talent on a national stage… give them an opportunity to be recognized for their hard work. On a more light-hearted note, the game gave a chance for players to earn bragging rights and settle disputes about who is the best. Finally, the event united the grassroots basketball community nationwide… never before have community coaches from coast to coast collaborated on a basketball initiative (player nominations) to this capacity… and never before has so much Canadian talent at this age group been on the court at the same time … unbiased selections and authentic atmosphere… the founding principles the event was built on“ Saeed Al-Naji
The All Canada Classic claimed many firsts in its 12-year run. As a precursor to the 2001 All Canada Classic, the event’s participants took part in the first National NCAA Sanctioned Recruitment Camp in front of dozens of scouts from the United States and Canada. In 2004, it gained the unique honor of being the first to have the top girls from across Canada showcased on the same stage as their male counterparts. From 2010-2012, the All Canada Classic also holds the distinction of being the only high school all-star game ever played at the Air Canada Centre, the home of the Toronto Raptors. And in its final 3 years, the All Canada Classic was host to some of the largest crowds ever for a Canadian High School all-star game.
Dawkins was confident that much like his previous AAU programs (Prep Stars Canada and Toronto Elite Development) that had top Toronto talent like Wayne Smith 6’8 (Bathurst Heights HS/Duquesne U., Videl Massiah(Eastern Commerce HS/St Bonaventure U.), and Carl English (St. Thomas Aquinas CSS/U. Hawaii/Pro/Canadian National Team), his new Grassroots Canada Basketball Boys program had the best talent in the country. The Toronto based Grassroots teams were turning the heads of NCAA scouts at American Athletic Union (AAU) events all along the east coast.
However, the rest of Canada was also exploding with talent: Shami Gill 6’9 (Mission SS/Philip Pocock HS/Washington State U.) and Kyle”White Rock Chocolate” Wilson 6’0 (White Rock Christian Academy/U. Massachusetts) were destroying British Columbia High School basketball. While Jermaine Bucknor (Ross Shepherd HS/U Richmond), the 6’6 high flyer was holding the crown for Alberta High School ball, Montreal had the most prized big man in the country in Bernard Cote 6’10 (Champlain-Saint Lambert/U. Kentucky). Outside the G.T.A, David Hehn 6’5 (Sarnia, ON/U. Vermont) was putting small-town Ontario talent on the map.
With limited national level platforms to display the high-skill level of Canadian high school basketball players, Dawkins and event Co-Founder Al Naji set the stage for the 1st national event by creating a challenge from their Toronto based Grassroots teams to the rest of Canada. The founders planned a weekend-long event with 2 all-star games to decide Canadian basketball supremacy. And for additional exposure for the athletes, the night before the event, the 1st National Recruitment Camp for NCAA coaches was held.
“We had to create more opportunities for Canadian ballers to play against and with the best in the country. It was necessary to physically bring people to the gym to create bragging rights and figure out who was for real. It wasn’t an option for guys to put together a highlight film in an empty gym or against weaker local competition and put it on YouTube.” – Wayne Dawkins, ACC Co-Founder
The celebration would be called the All Canada Basketball Weekend and the events all-star games would be nicknamed the “Mega City Clash” (soon the “Rumble in the-T-Dot”) and become the main event component of the weekend. In one game, the top 12 players in Toronto would square off against the best 12 players in the rest of Canada. And in the undercard match, another group of 12 top players in Toronto would play the best of the rest of Ontario. For a showdown of this magnitude, with the best talent in Canada going head-to-head, television coverage would be the only way to capture that title match.
In the Spring of 2001 with the help of Bob Clark alumni of St. Michaels in Toronto and father of Grassroots Canada, Jon Clark 6’10 (St. Michaels/U. Rhode Island), Canada’s 1st National High School All-Star Game was birthed at St. Michael’s High School with RogersTV on hand to televise the showdown. Jabulah Murray 6’3 (Eastern Commerce HS/Virginia Commonwealth U./U. Science and Arts of Oklahoma) walked away with the games MVP, but the games most exciting moments came from Denham Brown 6’5 (West Hill CI/U. Connecticut) and Kevin Massiah 6’5 (York Memorial CI/Main CI/U. W. Milwaukee/Pro)
“We had been working so hard. The All Canada Classic was a chance to celebrate that work and share it with the rest of the country.” – Denham Brown, 2001, 2002, 2009 ACC Alumni
Invited athletes flew and drove in from provinces and cities across Canada. There was no social media to entice athletes to travel. When they got the call, just the mention of elite competition against their peers and exposure to NCAA scouts was enough to get them packing bags and headed out the door to Canada’s biggest city. The excitement in the gym from day one was off the charts. Hundreds of fans packed the stadium despite having never seen the majority of the athletes before. Everyone got more than what they imagined. The dunk contest had Canada’s highest flyers: Tristan Martin, Kevin Massiah, Jermaine Bucknor, Mike Tuck, Tyrone “1 Love T.O.” Edwards, and Olu Famutimi. Even a broken rim in the contest by Famutimi didn’t stop the show. It just created more excitement while fans waited for the rim to get fixed.
The all-star games followed starting with Toronto B-Team vs Ontario. Toronto B-Team fought their way to victory led by Jermaine Anderson 6’2 (Eastern Commerce HS/Fordham U./European Pro/Canadian National Team), Mike Tuck 6’7 (Markham DHS/Loyola U. Pro/Canadian National Team) and Chris Kraus (Markham DHS/ Stonehill College). Then the evening ended with the main event; Toronto A-Team vs Canada. Both teams had Canadian basketball legends as coaches. Toronto A-Team bench boss was Rowan Barrett (West Hill CI, St. John’s U./Pro and Canadian National Team Star). The Canada Team Head Coach was Brandon U. Jerry Hemmings, who until 2009 led the CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sports) in career wins (734). On that day, Coach Hemmings would be handed one of his very few losses when Toronto A-Team took the historic victory.
“As a baller, you just had to be there. You had to take the opportunity to play with the best in the country because you knew it never happened. Even more than that, we were also fans of the game. So this was our chance to watch the players we only heard whispers about. There was no YouTube so the All Canada Classic was literally the only platform to make that happen.” – Kern Carter, 2001 ACC Alumni
2001 All Canada Classic Full Game – Rogers TV
The All Canada Classic surpassed the challenge of creating greater exposure for Toronto’s inner-city youth. As the All Canada Classic grew, so did the world’s awareness of the depth of our talent in Toronto and the rest of Canada. But what was created grew to become a massive celebration of Canadian basketball culture. An event that attracted local celebrities (Drake, Kardinal Offishall, JRDN, P-Reign), Toronto Raptors NBA Players (Jerome “JYD” Williams, Jamario Moon, DeMar DeRozan, Sonny Weems, Jarret Jack and Pops Mensah-Bonsu), dance groups, community organizations, and past alumni to enhance the celebration of talent. A platform as large as this would one day need a larger team than the original founding group to carry the legacy. via iamanelite1.com