If you’re a Canadian basketball fan, I encourage you to take a moment to take stock of this moment in time. It’s a special time in our history.
There are special Canadian players in both the NBA and WNBA, including three of the more exciting rookies in the NBA. Our Senior Women’s National Team (SWNT) finished a respectable fourth place in the 2022 FIBA World Cup, and our men’s team just finished a magical 11-1 run for their World Cup qualifier, placing them ahead of the 9-3 USA team.
This is no accident. It’s a culmination of the country’s investment, verve, and love of the game. The 2023 BioSteel All-Canadian showcased 48 of the top upperclassmen & women in Canadian high school basketball – boys and girls who embody this growing national passion for the game.
Then there’s the cream of the crop. Even among the best are exceptional individuals who have cultivated their transcendent talent with deep dedication. Not only did they ball out under the bright lights with TSN cameras rolling and thousands of eyeballs watching, they also led and elevated their fellow All-Canadian peers.
Below are brief performance summaries of the Team Red and Team White MVPs from both the girls and boys games, along with a couple of honourable mentions who turned heads in this year’s BioSteel All-Canadian Game.
Team Red MVP: PF #2 Toby Fournier
Crestwood Preparatory College
Class of 2024
“It’s just such an amazing opportunity to play with these girls all across the country, being able to compete together, and just build those relationships because usually I wouldn’t be able to see these girls from different provinces. Just coming all together and competing, especially for women’s basketball at such a big event like this, is so important.”
This is Toby Fournier’s past year: Two-time BioSteel All-Canadian MVP, 2023 BioSteel Basketball Player of the Year, 2023 OSBA champion, OSBA Girls Finals MVP, 2023 Grind Session MVP, and 2022 BioSteel All-Canadian Slam Dunk co-champion.
It quickly became obvious why the 6’1” power forward for Crestwood Prep is teeming with accolades. The first thing that stood out was her boundless energy. She’s a force on both ends of the floor and simply impacted the game in more ways than any of the other nine players sharing the court.
Extra effort plays come naturally to her, and she does all the little things so habitually it makes you think she could do them for 40 minutes every single game if she had to, and she’d still probably lead her team in scoring.
Fournier’s rise to fame came from her dunking ability at a young age, but there’s always been more to her offence. In fact, she didn’t need to make a dunk on Sunday afternoon to earn MVP honours (she attempted one and missed it). She has an old school post game that would make Kevin McHale proud. She’s great at creating openings with her footwork and wit. Her craftiness around the basket is complimented by her ability to finish in whichever way the play demands. Check out the hard stop and the touch on this hook shot:
Team White MVP: SF #8 Ajok Madol
Archbishop M.C. O’Neill Catholic High School
Class of 2023
Commit: University of Minnesota
“Basketball in Saskatchewan is really taking off. There’s a lot of girls who aren’t getting recognized. There’s actually another girl in the game that’s from Saskatchewan (Nevaeh Ferrara Horne), so that just shows you can’t sleep on out west. It’s not just Ontario, it’s not just Québec. Out west has really good basketball as well.”
If you had to play basketball against Ajok Madol before ever meeting her, you’d never guess that a gentle soul resided within this defensive beast. She’s of the player prototype that Masai Ujiri absolutely adores: long, strong, tough, and preferably 6’9”. Although Madol is 6’1”, she really does play like a Toronto Raptor. Specifically, she reminds me of a young O.G. Anunoby.
She’s a defence-first forward with next level instincts. She just knew where to be at all times. Adept at reading opponents, she jumped into passing lanes at the perfect time like a cornerback. And yet, her best defensive skill may actually be her shot blocking. She had four blocks and zero personal fouls in the game. Zero! This is some impressive presence of mind:
Madol’s defence is also how she ate on offence. The majority of her made shots came immediately after turnovers or offensive rebounds. If she created the turnover, she would try going coast-to-coast. If her teammate did, she ran hard down the court to beat defenders in transition.
A resident of Regina, Madol has committed to the University of Minnesota and will be playing for the Golden Gophers in the Big Ten starting next Fall. She chose the school partially due to Minnesota’s similarity to Regina and partially due to its proximity to home.
Honourable mention: G #0 Bree Robinson
The Webb School
Class of 2023
Commit: Michigan State University
“It feels great to be home. It’s fun playing in America but the environment here, being with my friends and family, it’s amazing. It feels so good to be back.”
Don’t let her bright smile fool you. Bree Robinson is a killer on the court. She mentioned on the TSN broadcast how Fred VanVleet is among her favourite players. Could it be because she modelled her game after his?
Like Steady Freddy, Robinson is one of those “coach on the court” point guards that coaches love. She’s quick (and a successful track athlete), can handle the rock, pass, drive, and shoot – the full offensive package, at least for a player who stands at 5’7”. Defensively, she used her swift, accurate hands to cause turnovers.
That said, Robinson’s superpower is her feel for the game. She’s a great decision-maker for a young player, and she used the skill to control the pace of the BioSteel All-Canadian Game during her team-high 31 minutes on the floor. It’s an attribute that can have a multiplicative effect on one’s basketball career. It’s partially why VanVleet is one of the greatest undrafted players in NBA history despite being a mere 6’1”. This pass well demonstrates her court vision:
Robinson will be a freshman on a Michigan State Spartan team with a deep guard rotation. Coming off the bench for limited minutes will take some getting used to, and it requires capitalizing on limited but high percentage opportunities like layups. She had some impressive finishes in the All-Canadian game, including this and-1:
Robinson will be doing some serious damage throughout her college career as she certainly has the foundation to be a lead guard in the NCAA.
Team Red MVP: PF #10 Chris Tadjo
NBA Academy Latin America
Class of 2024
“They have to know me now. When I was in Mexico, I was thinking I’ll come here for people to know me; to win the MVP and everything. I hope they know me now.”
When Luguentz Dort made his BioSteel All-Canadian debut in 2017, he was relatively not well known in the Canadian basketball community. Then he dropped 30 and took home MVP honours. A fellow Montréal native appears to be following in his footsteps.
There was no one more intense than Chris Tadjo. With still another year to go in high school, the high flyer stood out amongst an All-Canadian cohort that will likely be remembered for its athleticism. He got to the rim with the ease and relentlessness of a professional player. He already boasts an NBA-ready physique, and his All-Canadian peers on Team White had no answers for his bully ball style.
It’s obvious how much he loves basketball. He made five different posters and then smiled about it each time as he jogged back on defence. Players on Team White often made the business decision of getting out of the freight train’s way.
He uses those same physical tools to play defence as well. Even when you think you have the space to shoot, Tadjo can quickly close the gap and get a hand up. He’ll put you in the weight room if you battle him on the boards.
Tadjo will want to focus on his shooting from beyond the arc and at the line. But if he ever does develop a shot, perhaps he really can be the next Lu Dort, only even bigger.
Team White MVP: G #9 Michael Evbagharu
Royal Crown Academic School
Class of 2023
“The way it’s looking, I’m going to get somewhere for sure.”
As Leo Rautins said on the call, Michael Evbagharu is “pure business.” His athleticism won’t blow you away and he didn’t do anything flashy like Tadjo or some of the uber athletes, but he’ll win you games. He’s the 2023 OSBA Finals MVP and champion for a reason.
What he lacks in raw athleticism he makes up for in spades with his blend of smoothness and toughness. He’s never met a loose ball he didn’t like and he fought for his five offensive rebounds like this was anything but an exhibition game.
The valedictorian has an extremely cerebral game. He makes good decisions, rarely makes mistakes, and never tries to do too much offensively. He filled the score sheet just from being fundamentally sound and making shots that the defence gives him.
Watching him really begs the question of what he could be as a full time point guard. Up to this point in his basketball career, he’s been more of a combo guard with secondary ball handling duties, but his ball IQ suggests that his talents could be more realized playing that role. Something about seeing the ball in Evbagharu’s hands inspires confidence.
Fun side note: the “unflashy” Evbagharu and his mother were once paid a visit by LeBron James and Drake who surprised him with a $100,000 gift. That’s enough flashiness for a lifetime, and it will go a long way in helping Evbagharu with whatever he chooses to do as he heads off to college in the near future.
Honourable mention: PG Baraka Okojie
DME Sports Academy
Class of 2024
“Coming home, I didn’t expect a lot of people to pop out like this, so it was crazy. High energy. Everybody was out here having fun, so it was just great to be out here.”
Baraka Okojie is everything you want from a modern point guard. He’s a willing passer with good court vision, and yet, he’s blessed with all the scoring tools a slender basketball player can ask for. He has a wicked first step along with the handle and body control to maintain possession as he blurs to the cup. He’s just as quick on the defensive end with enough lateral speed to keep up with the top offensive talent in the country.
Okojie was fearless when attacking the rim, almost to a fault. Seeing larger defenders protecting the paint did little to deter him from driving in. This may be a function of being used to attacking larger players considering how much he’s practiced against his larger older brother Ose Okojie, a BioSteel All-Canadian alumnus.
Still, you can’t be too upset because he finishes well and clearly has a knack for getting to the charity stripe, as he attempted a game-high of 12 free throws.
Like Evbagharu, he made rebounding his priority despite his role as a guard. Even if he didn’t come down with the ball, he was great at tapping loose balls towards teammates and at being disruptive in 50/50 situations.
It will be interesting to see how Okojie can develop as a playmaker. He’s already solid at making basic reads and his play at BioSteel was suggestive of untapped upside. It was passes like this that inspired confidence in him one day becoming an elite table setter:
Thumbnail photo courtesy Fifis Visuals