Imad Qahwash, camp director and founder of the Tri Cities Top 40 Camp, addresses his players last summer.

Canada’s unknown basketball ‘hotbed’

Camp providing national platform for Kitchener-area players

KITCHENER – If you wanted to put a top camp into one of the country’s best basketball markets, this one might not come to mind right away.

Imad Qahwash’s unwavering belief in the Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge areas however has led him to create the Tri-Cities Top 40 Camp – an event specifically designed to maximize exposure for the area’s best players.

The 27-year-old professional player who competes in various international leagues is convinced his camp features some of the top prospects in the country, trailing only Toronto.

“The proof is in the pudding, Kitchener – Waterloo kids keep going on to play at post-secondary institutions,” said Qahwash, who played four years of Division 1 basketball at Central Arkansas.

“Even since my time there’s always been great talent here. We’ve produced national team players, professional players, people are playing internationally but we never got that much attention because there was never a platform or that much exposure.

“Now it’s becoming evident with my camp.”

The entrepreneur’s camp enters its fourth year of existence this summer and is targeted for high school players, most notably between the ages of 15 – 17.

Many of the camp’s notable alumni have yet to even graduate high school but their games are still being recognized.

The most highly touted gem that Qahwash helped to unearth was Jamal Murray who is currently ranked as the top high school player in the country and being advertised as the next big thing in Canadian basketball.

There is a strong belief amongst basketball pundits that Murray, who attends Athlete Institute in Orangeville, Ont., will follow in the footsteps of the current wave of Canadians invading the NBA – a thought not lost on Qahwash.

“Obviously a lot of people are paying attention to Kitchener – Waterloo now because of Jamal and he being discovered at our camp,” said Qahwash, who recently appeared as a guest on NBA TV Canada to speak of his camp among other items.

“Jamal was completely unknown. I told him to come to camp and trust me.”

Murray recognized the value of the experience in hindsight.

“It was definitely a good experience for me (it) brought out all the best players from the region trying to make a name,” Murray’s testimonial on the camp website reads. “It definitely helped me make a name and started the recruiting process with me.”

For as much as Murray helped raise the profile of the camp, Tariq Sbiet, co-founder of North Pole Hoops (NPH) – one of the leading Canadian basketball media outlets in the country – believes the camp has remained successful because of the indisputable talent in the region that only now is receiving more coverage.

“I can’t necessarily rank (Kitchener – Waterloo) per se because there are so many good regions – Brampton, Mississauga, Montreal, and Toronto.

“Kitchener – Waterloo is right up there though – I’ll say that.”

A number of alumni have already begun to make noise on the larger scene, including Nedim Hodzic and Sasha Simic – the 2013 co-MVPs of the camp – who were both invited to a national showcase game last year.

Liam Courtney, the camp’s main attraction this year, is a member of the Cadet National Team (U16) and has received interest from high to mid major Division 1 programs already according to Qahwash.

Meanwhile the K-W region also hosts three top 20 nationally ranked high school basketball programs in St. John’s – Kilmarnock School, Sir John A. Macdonald, and St. Mary’s as noted on the NPH website.

But for all of the surprising talent that has emerged from the region, the profile of the region still is lacking according to Sbiet.

“It’s about educating the coaches, especially the American coaches. You say Canada and (coaches) will automatically think of Toronto not knowing the surrounding regions,” he said. “It’s an education process that needs to be done.”

Follow Jose Colorado on Twitter @coloradourb