Montreal has produced a number of NBA giants, from Bill Wennington to Samuel Dalembert and Joel Anthony, and now a shot-blocking big man from Dollard-des-Ormeaux might be one step closer to joining them.
Khem Birch, a 6-9 centre at Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, was among a record three Canadians who were selected to compete in the prestigious McDonald's All-American game.
Birch spoke with from his high school and remembered that it was Brookwood coach Joey McKitterick who persuaded him to stick with the sport when he was thinking about quitting in 2008.
“Thank you for everything,” he said in a message to the Brookwood coaches. “I quit basketball and I hadn't played basketball the whole year. They took me and put me on Brookwood Elite and I played the whole summer and got better and I liked basketball more.”
Birch’s selection electrified Quebec’s basketball community. Many fans, players and coaches remember the skinny 15-year old with freakish athleticism who turned heads for Brookwood a few years ago.
Rouel Hidalgo, who coached Birch at Brookwood, remembers an excited phone conversation with Coach McKitterick, who raved about the young athlete’s performance at a tryout.
“It was just the most incredible tryout ever,” Coach Hidalgo recalled. “Khem was about to quit basketball. He came with us, it was the best tryout he'd ever had. He was dunking on people, blocking shots like crazy. You could tell he was special.”
D-I coaches thought the same thing when Brookwood headed south to play in Orlando and Ohio. He drew immediate attention for his ability to block shots and grab rebounds high above the rim.
He enrolled at Winchendon Prep before moving on to Notre Dame. Meanwhile, the accolades kept pouring in. He was invited to the LeBron James skills Academy last summer and was later named International MVP of the Nike Global Challenge while playing for Team Canada.
Some scouting services rated Birch as the #1 power forward in the class of 2012 before he reclassified to 2011. He made a verbal commitment to play for Pittsburgh in the fall.
Basketball is big business in the United States, and Birch has a message for young Canadian players who might become discouraged by the lack of exposure the sport receives in Canada.
“Work hard and try to reach your goals,” he said. “When I was living in Montreal three years ago, people didn't know I would be a McDonald's All American. And now look where I am, I'm a McDonald's All American. So I say work hard and don't ever doubt yourself.”
The all-star game will be played on March 30 at the United Center in Chicago, a house that might not be standing if not for 1981 McDonald’s All-American Michael Jordan.
Nearly 66% of all players selected for the McDonald’s game have played in the NBA, but Birch is not thinking that far ahead.
“Right now it’s to finish out the games and my season and focus on the McDonald's game afterwards.”
The all-star game is a chance for Birch to reunite with two buddies from the Canadian Junior National Team. Also selected were super-quick 6’2 guard Myck Kabongo of Toronto and 6’10 forward Kyle Wiltjer.
The McDonald’s game had never had three Canadians until this year. The previous record was two -- set just last year when Tristan Thompson of Brampton, Ont. and Corey Joseph of Pickering, Ont. were selected.

Post date - February 10, 2011


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