‘Take this baton and run with it’: Montreal basketball steps into the NBA spotlight

When Raptors big men Chris Boucher and Khem Birch lined up across Thunder wing Luguentz Dort in April, it marked the first time three Montrealers started — and even played — in the same NBA game.

The trio are all enjoying breakout seasons. Boucher has received regular playing time in Toronto and was sniffing consideration for Most Improved Player before a recent knee injury. Birch looks rejuvenated after a mid-season move from the basement-dwelling Orlando Magic to Toronto.

In Oklahoma City, Dort has only built on his performance from the bubble, showing off an impressive offensive repertoire to go along with his usual stingy defence.

They are among many Canadians making an impact late in the NBA season — New York’s R.J. Barrett recently dropped 25 points on the Raptors, Indiana’s Oshae Brissett recently landed a three-year contract and Simi Shittu is set to join Barrett with the Knicks on a 10-day deal.

In the latest episode of CBC Sports video series North Courts, host Vivek Jacob and guests Meghan McPeak and Jevohn Shepherd discuss some eye-popping Canadian NBAers and the rise of Quebec basketball. NBA champion and Montreal native Joel Anthony also joins to explain how the sport has grown in his home province.

WATCH | North Courts crew discusses rise of Montreal basketball:

Are we seeing a Montreal uprising in Canada Basketball? Vivek Jacob, Jevohn Shepherd, and Meghan McPeak discuss Montreal hoops, and Joel Anthony joins to discuss the city finally getting the respect it deserves. 13:15

“The talent has always been there but the city hasn’t gotten the recognition we felt we’ve been due,” Anthony said. 

“That’s why it’s great to see this now because it is a city that has a lot of talent. There is great potential with the players coming up right now and for that to finally come together is really special.”

Like Anthony, none of Boucher, Birch and Dort were selected in the NBA draft, instead clawing their way to the league without that recognition.

“That’s definitely part of our DNA, part of our culture. … That’s why it’s even more special to see those guys have success because you understand, for a lot of them, their story and where they came from to be able to do that,” Anthony said.

WATCH | Boucher, Birch lead Raptors past Dort’s Thunder:

Chris Boucher posted a game-high 31 points as he and Khem Birch led the Raptors to a win over the Thunder’s Montreal native Lugentz Dort. 1:15

In the Raptors-Thunder game, Boucher collected 31 points and 11 rebounds with Birch adding seven and six in the Toronto victory. Dort exploded with 21 points in the first quarter en route to 29 for the game.

“There wasn’t one of them that didn’t have some sort of impact on that ball game. And I think it was great to see. We always talk about the talent coming out of the GTA and Toronto basketball and West coast basketball as well. Now we’re starting to see the emergence of what Montreal can bring to the basketball landscape,” McPeak said.

Shepherd, a former national team player, said their success can be traced back to the coaches, trainers and former players that returned to work within the basketball community.

“I really like what Chris Boucher said after that OKC game. He said, ‘Look, I’ve set the bar. I want these kids, the next generation, to aspire to be more than me.’ That’s the magic to this success. You have to take this baton and run with it now.”

Read more at CBC.ca