TORONTO (Reuters) - The National Basketball Association (NBA) launched a youth basketball campaign across Canada on Wednesday in a bid to capitalize on the country’s growing interest in the game.
Less than three months after Anthony Bennett became the first Canadian-born player to be selected first overall in the NBA Draft, the league is eager to get youth in the hockey-crazed country to pick up a basketball instead of a stick.
The campaign (NBA.com/playball) includes a database listing nearly 700 youth basketball clubs in 10 provinces and three territories with places to play, according to NBA Canada General Manager Dan Mackenzie.
“It is an exciting time for basketball in this country, from the first-ever Canadian number one pick in the NBA Draft this year to rising participation numbers in the sport at all levels,” said Mackenzie.
“Through this campaign, we will make it easier to find a place to play and to further contribute to the growth of basketball in Canada.”
Since the debut of the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies in 1995, the latter team having relocated to Memphis in 2001, the league is keen to tap into the first generation to grow up with NBA teams based in Canada.
According to the NBA, basketball is the most popular team participation sport in Canada amongst youth aged 12-17.
Seven Canadians have been drafted in the past three years, with nine on NBA rosters this coming season.
Bennett drew headlines across the country when the Cleveland Cavaliers selected the 20-year-old forward with the first pick in the 2013 NBA draft in June.
Reporting by Frank Pingue; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes