Thursday, December 27, 2012

Canada: a Recruiting Ground for Top International Basketball Talent

The current best high school basketball player in the world is not from the United States.  Andrew Wiggins hails from Canada, a country better known for producing top hockey talent.  An article on his success as a cross-border phenom highlights a route that many international basketball players are taking in order to make the NBA.
Wiggins is following the path several of his countrymen — hone your skills in Canada's ever-improving youth programs, play at a U.S. prep school and earn a scholarship to one of America's best college basketball programs.
Apparently, Canada is increasingly becoming a destination of choice for aspiring basketball players from outside North America.
The rise in basketball stars dates back to the late 1970s when Canada loosened its restrictions on immigrants. The country saw an influx of African and Caribbean immigrants, and many of today's top players come from those bloodlines. . . . "If you're an African kid from Nigeria or some place like that, you can't get an American visa," Francis said. "So you go to Canada where there's kind of a pipeline, and that's how you get to the United States.
The independent documentary Elevate sheds light on this basketball recruiting pipeline.  The movie follows several top Senegalese basketball players, from their training at the prestigious SEEDS Academy in Dakar to their careers as standout basketball players at prestigious prep schools in the United States.  In one particularly poignant scene in the movie, a rising star point guard in Senegal is denied an F-1 visa to play for a high school in the United States.  As per routine at US Consulates, no reason is properly conveyed for the denial, and the player's dreams of leaving his country to play overseas are heart-wrenchingly stymied (although he later gets another visa).  Presumably, the player was rejected under INA section 214(b), which is the most common reason for visa denial.  Under 214(b), most nonimmigrant visa applicants must demonstrate that they lack the intent to stay in the United States permanently, and young basketball players facing opportunities for education and possibly a basketball career in the United States may find it difficult to demonstrate sufficiently strong ties to the home country that will compel them to leave the United States.

As U.S. immigration policy continues to restrict access to talented, aspiring athletes from overseas, it appears that an increasing number of such athletes are making their way to Canada instead.

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