CHICAGO - The sixth annual Basketball Without Borders Global Camp took place during All-Star Weekend in Chicago with plenty of Canadian representation on hand.
Six of the campers were from Canada, including three who attend the NBA Academy in Mexico City.
The 64 top boys and girls from 34 different countries and regions went through testing, skill development, 3-point contests and, of course, a tournament to crown a winning team. They were also able to attend All-Star Saturday Night and the main event, the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday night.
By the end of the camp on Sunday, five Canadians were named to the Basketball Without Borders All-Star team. Merissah Russell (Ottawa, ON) made it on the girls' side, while Josh Primo (Mississauga, ON), Charles Bediako (St. Catharines, ON), Olivier-Maxence Prosper (Montreal, QC) and Bennedict Mathurin (Montreal, QC) all earned a spot on the boys' side.
Mathurin, who's had the chance to see Montrealers Chris Boucher, Khem Birch and Lugentz Dort make the NBA in recent years, was proud to represent his home town.
"I feel like there are players from my city that make it to the NBA", Mathurin told NBA.com. "I just feel like everything is possible - don't put some limits, just keep on working and you're going to achieve your dreams."
Olivier-Maxence Prosper (Montreal, QC) 🇨🇦 soars from the free-throw line at the #BWBGlobal Camp in Chicago! pic.twitter.com/70DS29IEW4- NBA Canada (@NBACanada) February 16, 2020
Mathurin, who grew up in the same neighbourhood as Dort, considers the Oklahoma City rookie a mentor and big influence on him.
"I've known (Dort) since I was 12 years old. We've been talking a lot. He's taught me a lot and I consider him like my big brother."
Unlike Dort and the other Montrealers in the league, Mathurin has taken an unconventional route in his basketball path - he's honing his craft at the NBA Academy in Mexico City. While many of Canada's top prospects have decided to either stay home or go to the U.S. to continue their dreams, the 6-foot-6, 180-pound guard felt like the best thing for him to grow on and off the floor was in Mexico.
"I felt like I could've gone to the states, I could've gone and played pro but I felt like being a part of a different culture was going to help me grow a lot," Mathurin continued. "I feel like it was the best for me, just being around people that speak another language.
"I've learnt more English, more Spanish and Portuguese, so I feel like I've grown a lot being over there."
Mathurin is committed to the University of Arizona as part of the class of 2020. His dream is to one day join his childhood friend Dort in the NBA.
On the girls' side, Merissah Russell and Maggie Besselink (Kingston, ON) came in inspired. Both of them watched anxiously just a week earlier as the Canadian Senior Women's Team clinched their spot in the 2020 Tokyo Games in Ostend, Belgium.
Besselink, who was attending a high-level camp for the first time, was humbled by the experience and hopes to take the lessons she learned from WNBA and NBA coaches back with her.
Russell, who had the privilege of attending a BWB event in the past, was excited to continue to learn and develop both on and off the court.
"It's amazing, I did a BWB during the Final Four last year and it was a great experience and to come here again and get the opportunity to play with these amazing girls, create new relationships with coaches and different players, it's an amazing experience," Russell told NBA.com. "To play at this high level and be exposed to WNBA and NBA staff is truly amazing."
Something light from Oliver-Maxence Prosper @olmaxpros8. 🇨🇦 #BWBGlobal pic.twitter.com/QNDWGQG1B1- Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay) February 14, 2020
Competing at the camp as one of six Canadians was an honour in itself for the class of 2020 guard. Russell, who is headed to the University of Louisville next season, felt like she had a different type of swagger coming together with some of the world's best - especially after her country had locked in their Olympic berth.
"I know some of the girls on the Senior Women's Team and they work so hard all their lives, especially in the past four years to qualify for the Olympics," Russell continued. "It's amazing for our country. We've worked so hard, our past athletes have worked so hard just to get us on the map.
"It's an amazing feeling, I'm so proud to be Canadian."
Russell hopes one day to play in the WNBA, but also hopes to don the red and white at the Senior level.
"Man, I want to be in an Olympics. I can't wait till 2024, I hope I get the opportunity to try out and be on the team, but I want to be an Olympian - I want to help our country medal.
"These amazing women have paved the way for that to even be a dream of mine and I want to follow in their footsteps.
"I want to make them proud."