The province's top basketball prospects and the university coaches that scout them will be gathering in the community en masse this weekend for the Etobicoke Basketball Association's third annual Thunder Jam tournament for under-19 AA and AAA club teams.
Several years ago the 44-year-old local association, which boasts the biggest house league in the province with a membership of 1,500, decided to rebrand its annual hoops get-together to better showcase its elite talent.
In just a few short years, the event, which hit capacity at 20 teams in December and includes big name sponsors such as Nike and smaller local sponsors such as Dimpflmeier Bakery and Mantella, has become an annual rite for elite level talent across the province.
Thunder Jam also signals the start of another Ontario Basketball Association season for its 90-some division I and division II AA and AAA teams.
"There were others (teams) who really wanted a spot, but unfortunately we could only take 20," says Jordan Paolucci, head coach of the Etobicoke Thunder under-19 AAA elite team, noting tournament organizers were restricted by the facilities they could access right now.
"A couple of American teams had also expressed some interest, but I didn't have confirmation."
The host EBA's under-19 elite team went all the way to the tournament's gold medal game last year, but was forced to settle for a silver medal, a result Paolucci remembers well, and, despite this being an entirely different team, he is hoping to build on last year's mark.
Coordinator Ann Street says the event is predominately about providing EBA kids, many of whom grew up through the association, the exposure they need to get to the next level - university or college ball - in the states or at home.
"We want to give them the exposure to coaches, both in Canada and the U.S.," she said. And community involvement has been a helpful means of getting that done.
"Sponsorship has been extremely important to our survival because it's hugely expensive to run a team...the rental of the gym, the refs, the cost of the tournament, the uniforms."
Thunder Jam, which will have a NBA feel to it with live DJs and lots of mid-game and between-games activity, runs all day Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. out of the refurbished high school hard courts at Michael Power-St. Joseph Catholic Secondary and Richview Collegiate.
The Etobicoke Thunder will showcase lots of talent this weekend, including a number of athletes that have either already secured post-secondary or scholarship arrangements with Canadian and NCAA Division I schools, or are on the cusp of doing so.
Here's a list of some of some local, Etobicoke Thunder Elite players competing in the tournament and currently being recruited:
Patrick Street, the team's 6'5" small forward, is considering Queen's, York, Acadia, Laurier and St. Mary's universities and is weighing several NCAA academic-athletic scholarship offers.
Ryall Stroud, a 6'8" centre, is being recruited by Queen's, UofT, Dalhousie, and has also received a few academic-athletic scholarship offers from NCAA Division I schools.
Matthew Taylor, a 6'4" small forward, is being recruited by Windsor and Humber College and is considering some NCAA Division I offers in addition to American prep schools.
Matthew Bukovec, a 6'5" small forward, is being recruited by York and Ryerson universities.
"The team also has three players who plan on returning for a fifth year of high school to maximize their development and exposure in the hopes of being recruited to play in the NCAA," said Paolucci.
Donnavan Hastings, a 6'6" forward, and Jovan Leamy, a 6'3" guard, are both being recruited by several American prep schools, "a stepping stone to NCAA play".
Reilly Reid, a 6'2" point guard, is also being pursued by several American prep schools as well as Canadian universities and colleges.