March Madness starts today and an eight-foot-tall former Leaside hockey player could be the star

Toronto native Zach Edey’s rise to the top of the American college basketball world was an unlikely story.

Edey, the star center for the Purdue Boilermakers, came late to the sport and spent much of his youth in Toronto’s Leaside neighborhood playing baseball and hockey.

It wasn’t until he entered his teens that he became seriously interested in basketball.

“I think we got it when I was 15 or 16,” said Vidal Massiah, CEO of the Northern Kings, an elite Toronto-area basketball academy that has helped many Canadians reach the NCAA.

“Obviously kids started at six or seven years old, you know, in terms of reaching the level that Zach is at. “It takes a lot of time and investment.”

Now, just a few years later, the 21-year-old, seven-foot-four is the reigning player of the year and hopes to lead the top-seeded Boilermakers to a deep tournament run a year after having been surprised in the final. first round.

Purdue plays its first game of the tournament at 7:25 p.m. on Friday.

Zach Edey

“This is a remarkable story: taking all those skills developed through other sports, transferring them to basketball and then starting to excel by having a great work ethic and a great mind,” Massiah told

Edey was first discovered by Massiah’s sister at a Leaside High School basketball game at the University of Toronto.

“She took a quick photo of Zach at the foul line and sent me a photo,” Massiah said.

“My nephew came up to him after the game and said, ‘Hey, what’s up? What is your name? What’s your Number? My uncle is going to change your life.’”

But Massiah said that after contacting Edey’s family, he received no response for months.

‘We found this unicorn’

When he finally got Edey to try out for the Northern Kings program, he was quick to share his evaluation with the teen’s parents.

“I think in a couple of years he’ll be in the NBA,” Massiah told them. “That’s where it all started.”

Zach EdeyHe said what initially impressed him most was Edey’s sheer athleticism.

“If you watch Zach skate or shoot, you’ll be floored. You’d be surprised how athletic he is,” he said.

At first, Massiah said, only a handful of people really saw Edey’s potential.

“I remember sitting in my truck for an hour or two texting all my coaches, telling them how excited I was to have found this unicorn,” he said.

“I was over the moon. I thought we had discovered the most important thing.”

He said others were skeptical given how new he was to the sport.

“That’s why people didn’t believe it,” he said. “Just enough time for him to reach the level where coaches would imagine him viable or useful.”

Some of those who coached Edey in other sports during his childhood used to joke about getting him into basketball, but they said he just seemed interested in other things.

“A lot of players would suggest he take up basketball and ask him why he played hockey,” said Mark DeCiantis, owner of Golden Glide Hockey, where Edey spent several years developing his skills on the ice.

“I’m sure at a young age you want to play hockey like everyone else in Toronto.”

Zach EdeyEdey was about seven years old when he started hockey school, DeCiantis said, noting that he was about five-foot-four at that age.

“He was exceptionally tall and that obviously worked in his favor on the ice,” he said.

DeCiantis said he believes it was around age 13 that Edey lost interest in hockey and focused more of his time on baseball.

“He was a great kid,” he said. “Always a pleasure to be around.”

“He didn’t really try”

When Leaside High School teacher Amit Latchmiah first saw Edey in his 10th grade physics course. Ed. Class said he immediately wondered how he was going to include him on the school’s youth basketball team.

“He didn’t really try. She was automatically on the team,” Latchmiah told

“And then I found out he plays baseball and hockey and 10th grade was the first time he actually played basketball.”

Zach EdeyLatchmiah described Edey as a “quiet leader” who “excelled in every activity” and was also quick to help his classmates.

“We ended up getting to the finals that year but we ended up losing because I had never seen a team defend it (like that),” he laughed.

“They triple-teamed him and he didn’t have the ball.”

He said when the decision was made for Edey to leave Leaside to continue his basketball career at IMG Academy in Florida, his teammates were disappointed to have to continue without him.

“They knew it was a big loss,” Latchmiah said. “I think the team struggled the next year.”

In Edey’s first year at IMG Academy, Massiah said he, too, struggled to make his mark and impress the coaches.

“That first year was him adjusting, adjusting to being away from home and being more independent, and to be honest, there wasn’t a lot of success in basketball that first year,” he said.

He said when Edey returned to Toronto that summer, he trained every day in preparation for his second year at IMG.

Zach Edey“When he got back there, he had to fight that first week to make the (national) team.”

He said that was when the school’s coaches began to see Edey as a “real prospect.”

“And that’s when schools really started to get more involved,” he said.

Purdue was a perfect fit.

Massiah said he always hoped Edey would end up at Purdue.

“I thought Purdue would be the perfect fit because they have a long tradition and history of recruiting and playing with very great athletes,” he said.

“I was afraid that in another school or situation, that might be a novelty where a coach might say I’ve got a really good kid, but you have no interest in really using him for what he is.”

And Edey has proven to fit well at the Big Ten school, setting Purdue’s career scoring record last week.Zach Edey

Massiah said he feels Edey was, in part, motivated by naysayers and coaches who didn’t believe he could become an elite player.

“I’m sure they’re kicking each other’s butts because he was available to everyone and no one wanted to hear the story, just look at this unfinished product,” he said.

“But his story was everything. His story would have told you where he was going.”

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