Until this spring, Grant Shephard had never seriously considered the thought of playing basketball for his country.
That all changed when UBC Okanagan Heat coach Pete Guarasci contacted the national cadet team coaching staff to remind them about a talented, 6-foot-9 player from Kelowna who just might have something to offer.
Shephard, a 16-year-old Grade 10 forward with the KSS Owls, delivered on Guarasci’s recommendation by making Canada’s U16 squad at a tryout camp on Easter weekend in Toronto.
Shephard, the only player born outside of Ontario to be named to the national team, will join the Canadian side for the FIBA Americas tournament, next month in Bahia Blanca, Argentina.
Eight countries, including the U.S., Brazil and Argentina will be competing.
“It’s an exciting opportunity for me,” said Shephard, who has also been a member of the junior Heat program. “It’s going to be tough competition, the best from every country will be there. I’m happy because I know it will make me better, even if I do get my butt kicked.”
With the Owls this past season, it was Shephard who often inflicted discomfort on his opponents, averaging 14.6 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, despite being sidelined for a month with a dislocated thumb.
At the B.C. 4A provincial championship, Shephard helped pace the Owls to the bronze medal with 19.3 points and 12.8 rebounds per game, while also being named to the tournament’s second all-star team.
KSS coach Harry Parmar said the national cadet team will be an important step for Shephard who has all the tools to become dominant player at the next level.
“I think this will be an eye-opener for him, all in a good way, to get to see where he stands and fits in against the best of the best, and see if this is a viable opportunity for him.” said Parmar. “He has great hands, he’s very athletic and he can run better than most guys his size.
“Maybe the best thing is his attitude, his willingness to learn.”
Shephard started playing basketball in Grade 5 and last season, in Grade 9, suited up for the OKM Huskies.
Joining a powerhouse high school program at KSS for his Grade 10 year has been the highlight of Shephard’s young career to date.
The Owls won the Western Canada Basketball Tournament, then placed third at the 4A provincials in Langley.
“What stood out was being part of Westerns for the first time, KSS hadn’t won in 33 years, so to be part of that was great,” he said. “At provincials, we knew we could have won that, too, it was just one tough game that stopped us. We saw how good of a team we can be.”
As for his gauging his potential at the national level, cadet team head coach David DeAveiro said Shephard’s showing at the tryout camp this spring in Toronto was all the evidence his staff needed.
“Grant was the leading rebounder at the camp and to come in do that against some pretty good athletes and players, that’s quite an achievement,” said DeAveiro. “I liked his athleticism, how got after it and his work ethic. He really wanted to make this team and he showed us that.”
“He’s going to gain some valuable experience at the international level where the game is played a little differently,” said said DeAveiro. “There will be the elite there from the world of basketball and he’ll see it firsthand. Hopefully when he goes back to high school, he’ll take some confidence with him, be one of the top players and dominate at that level.”
Shephard, whose favourite NBA player is 6-foot-10 L.A. Clippers veteran Blake Griffin, hopes to make the most of this spring’s stint with the national team.
“I want to work hard and get better, and come back next season to (Owls) and be a better teammate,” Shephard said.
Shephard will head to Toronto on May 28 for a pre-tournament training camp with the national cadet program.
The Canadians will then play in the FIBA Americas, June 10 to 14 in Argentina, with four of the eight teams to qualify for next year’s U17 world championship.
Canada opens up June 10 with a game against Venezuela.