Jahsemar Olembe works out during a KW Vipers practice last Saturday at KCI. Photo by Ian Stewart
KITCHENER — It's a drizzly Saturday morning and Jahsemar Olembe is raining three-point attempts during a KW Vipers under-14 basketball practice in the Kitchener Collegiate Institute gym.
He drains most shots. Some, he doesn't. Which is why Olembe keeps firing, along with working through other drills. Practice will make perfect, or as close to it as possible.
"His work ethic will allow him to reach his potential," said Dwayne Washington, founder and director of Nike UPlay Canada, an Elite Youth Basketball League program in which Olembe plays.
That potential, basketball insiders suggest, is limitless. Olembe, 13, has impressed at every level since he took up the game at age six.
"Basketball just seemed to come easy for me," Olembe said.
He is currently ranked, by at least one scouting service, as the No. 2 prospect in North America — projected for the graduating high school class of 2022-23. Elijah Fisher, 13, of Toronto, a six-foot-four small forward, is top-rated, followed by a host of American players.
Olembe, who would likely attend KCI if he stays in Canada for high school, helped the Margaret Avenue Public School team to the Waterloo County championship last spring.
Rankings are an inexact science, particularly for youth players. Nevertheless, the six-foot-three, 160-pound guard is being talked about as another in a line of Canadians following in the footsteps of Kitchener's Jamal Murray, now of the NBA's Denver Nuggets, and top draft prospect Rowan (R.J.) Barrett, Jr. of Mississauga.
Barrett, considered one of the world's top players for his age and the son of a former Olympian, was tournament MVP as Canada won the under-19 basketball World Cup in July in Cairo. The Canadians beat Italy 79-60 in the final, after stunning the U.S. 99-87 in the semifinals.
Olembe's "at the same level, at the same age, as Murray and Barrett," said Washington, who played four years of college basketball during the 1990s at Houghton College in New York state.
Murray is 20. Barrett is 17. Much can happen in the years separating Olembe from those two elite Canadian guards.
So while he regularly rings up high-scoring games for the Vipers, and dropped 61 points on the top-rated Scarborough Blues during an Ontario Basketball Association game last season, Olembe is working to diversify his game.
His goal is to develop into the complete package, represented by the player he most admires, Milwaukee Bucks' star Giannis Antetokounmpo. The 'Greek Freak,' a six-foot-11 forward, whose ball-handling skills enable him to also play the guard position, last season became the first player in NBA history to finish the regular season in the top 20 in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots. He's the crest of a wave of players redefining the concept of fixed positions in basketball.
Olembe is trying to focus his ball-handling skills and court vision on distributing the ball better, while maintaining his shooting eye and defensive intensity.
"This year, I want to get everyone involved," he said. "I was really proud I had 13 assists in a game recently."
It's the sort of approach Washington encourages.
"That's why I put him at point guard (with UPlay)," Washington said. "I told him he needs to be a playmaker, to take on that challenge of playing a game within the game."
At the moment, Olembe physically dominates his opposition. The expression man vs. boys comes to mind, while watching highlights of his 61-point effort against Scarborough on YouTube. But neither he, his father Shamiah — who coaches his son with the Vipers and has plotted a course that includes regular participation at U.S.-based camps — nor Washington see Olembe being overtaken.
"I don't worry about other players catching up," Olembe said. "Even if I stop growing, I'm still six-three. That's about the size of (Golden State superstar) Steph Curry, who is an all-around player, at my height."
By no stretch is Olembe comparing himself to the Warriors' star. He simply made a physical comparison to Curry, listed at six-two. Confident in his game and desire to be the go-to player, Olembe is constantly working at improving and that focus is what will likely keep him a step ahead, Washington says.
"They won't catch up, because his work ethic is comparable to people like Murray. It's through the roof," Washington said.
"What his dad is doing with him, scheduling him, holding him accountable, it develops that necessary mindset and work ethic. He could eventually be one of the top guards to come out of Canada."