Olivier Rioux landed with a size-large exclamation point on Michael Meeks’ radar when the Canada Basketball coach opened a photo in his inbox seven years ago.
Rioux was attending a kids basketball camp in Montreal, and posed for a photo alongside then-Detroit Pistons and Canadian team centre Joel Anthony, who stands a formidable six foot nine.
“Ron Yeung (Canada Basketball’s manager of domestic development) sent me this photo of Olivier and Joel, and Olivier is about the same height, give or take an inch. Ron says, ‘This kid is nine years old,'” said Meeks.
“I was immediately on the phones, finding out who he was and what was going on and what we can do to help.”
In the years since, Rioux has sprouted to a full seven foot six. He can dunk on an NBA hoop while barely leaving his feet.
Guinness World Records recognized him as the world’s tallest teenager when he was 15 and seven foot five. If he played in the NBA now, he’d be tied with Cleveland’s Tacko Fall as the league’s tallest player.
But Rioux is playing for Quebec at the Canada Summer Games this week in Ontario’s Niagara Region with kids at least his own age, if nowhere near his size.
Quebec was scheduled to face Saskatchewan on Friday after dropping a 72-70 decision to Alberta in Thursday night’s semifinal.
Meeks, who’s at the Games to keep an eye on Canada’s young players, said he’s seen improvement in Rioux even over the past few weeks, but cautions that like any super tall player, he’s a long-term work in progress.
“People see his size and their expectations are pretty high,” said Meeks. “For me, it’s the little things like his mobility and agility, how he’s moving, how he conceptualizes the game — how much fun is he having competing and playing?
“This is important because we’re in uncharted territories with Olivier, there’s never been anybody that big at that age before. So, we’re kind of cautiously optimistic that he’s definitely moving in the right direction.”
Rioux, who’s from Anjou, a borough in east Montreal, will begin Grade 10 in the fall in Bradenton, Fla. He moved there to attend IMG Academy — a school that counts superstar tennis sisters Serena and Venus Williams among its alumni — a year ago.
“It was nice,” Rioux said of his first year away from home. “I was calling my parents almost every day, and the school year was good, my grades were up.
“Back in Montreal I used to go to school every day for at least eight hours. Now I go to school for three hours and practice in the afternoon, It’s different,” he added with a deep-voiced laugh.
He’s having fun at the Games, he said, and has taken in some of the boxing competition.
Rioux was 5-2 in kindergarten. His dad Jean-Francois is 6-8, his mom Anne is 6-2.
He first became an unsuspecting internet star at age 12, while playing at a tournament in Spain. He stood out like a maypole among the other players on the court. It caught the eye of Golden State star Steph Curry, who tweeted: “So many questions … “
Joey Mckitterick, who’s coached Rioux at Montreal’s AAU program Brookwood Elite since he was 12, echoed Meeks in that he’s seen huge improvement in Rioux this year, particularly as his growing has slowed and his co-ordination is catching up.
But perhaps most important is that Rioux is enjoying the game, which is key since huge expectations come with being super tall.
“I think this year you could see that he enjoyed everything about it, the basketball, the travelling, everything like that. He’s definitely falling in love with it,” Mckitterick said.
Mckitterick said part of his responsibility coaching Rioux was being a buffer between the teen and curious onlookers.
“When we travel, we could be sitting in a hotel lobby and random strangers will come up to him and ask him for a picture. It’s challenging even getting through the airport to make a flight on time because people are constantly stopping him: ‘Can I take your picture? Can you hold my baby?’ Can you do this, can you do that?
“When I met with our players at the end of the year. I told him ‘I can’t imagine being you. But the best I can do is just kind of guide you and help you and be here for you for anything you need, because I can’t put myself in your position.’ Nobody could.”
That uniqueness makes it difficult to gauge where basketball might take him.
“When you see Olivier, every three to six months he’s doing things quicker, faster, stronger, more balanced, he’s got more agility, his game is getting better, his understanding of how to impact the game is getting better,” Meeks said. “This is important, because usually taller players are a little bit slower (to develop), and he’s moving at the right rate in terms of a super tall player.
“Usually guys that stopped growing at about 6-3, 6-4, you could begin to see exactly what they’re going to be by the time they’re 16 years old. But these tall, tall players, it’s 24, 25 before it all starts coming together.”
Rioux, who likes to study the games of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic, who are both 6-11, is well-proportioned for his size and hasn’t had any major physical issues such as sore knees that can come with fast growth.
Among other NBA giants, Gheorghe Muresan is listed as the tallest ever at seven foot seven. Yao Ming and Shawn Bradley were 7-6. Canadian Sim Bhullar was 7-5, but his weight — he was listed at 360 pounds — was a limiting factor.
Canada at least has some experience with super tall players. Zach Edey, a 20-year-old from Toronto, is seven foot four. Edey made his debut with Canada’s senior men’s team in a World Cup qualifier in May. The IMG Academy product is heading into his junior season for the Purdue Boilermakers, who’ve also expressed early interest in Rioux.
“There are a lot of Division 1 schools that are very familiar with him already,” Mckitterick said. “The schools that are really focusing in on him are ones that value the size and want to use it. Because basketball has kind of gone in the direction of smaller (multi-position players), but there’s still a lot of programs that still value that size.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 12, 2022.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press
Auger-Aliassime, Sock cut Team World's deficit at Laver Cup – TSN
LONDON (AP) — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”
Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.
Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.
“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”
When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest — and the three-day competition — Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”
“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”
Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is ‘Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”
McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.
This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.
Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).
“I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years — after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”
Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.
Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.
Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.
He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.
“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”
That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker — first to 10, win by two — Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.
While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.
“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, a 25-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”
More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Homer-happy Blue Jays regain 2-game lead over Rays in AL wild-card race – CBC Sports
Tampa Bay’s two-year reign as AL East champion is over.
George Springer homered twice, Alejandro Kirk and Teoscar Hernandez also went deep and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Rays 7-1 on Sunday to gain a four-game split.
The New York Yankees hold a comfortable lead in the AL East, and Sunday’s loss eliminated the third-place Rays from the division race, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Toronto (86-67) opened a two-game lead over Tampa Bay (84-69) for the top AL wild card with nine games left. Seattle (83-69) is 2 1/2 games back of the Blue Jays and a half-game behind the Rays after blowing a big lead in a 13-12 loss to Kansas City. Baltimore remains four games behind the Mariners for the third and final spot.
The Blue Jays return home for six games against the Yankees and Boston before heading to Baltimore for three.
The Rays close out the regular season with a nine-game trip to AL Central champion Cleveland, AL West champion Houston and Boston.
“We control our own destiny on this,” Tampa Bay infielder Taylor Walls said. “Not winning today hurts a little bit, but at the same time we have enough games ahead of us if we play well enough, I’m pretty confident that we can be where we want to be.”
Toronto allowed 20 runs in losing the first two games of the series, but limited Tampa Bay to a total of two runs in winning the final two.
Ross Stripling (9-4) permitted one run and six hits in five innings. Zach Pop, Adam Cimber, Trevor Richards and Yusei Kikuchi combined to give up one hit over four innings.
Rays all-star Shane McClanahan (12-7), pulled in the fifth inning of his previous start due to neck tightness, gave up four runs and six hits, including a career-high three homers, over five innings.
McClanahan said he is healthy, but struggled with command. This was his third start since spending 15 days on the injured list with a left shoulder impingement.
“I felt good. … Just didn’t have it today,” McClanahan said. “I’ve got to do better. It’s frustrating.”
The left-hander is 2-4 with a 4.26 ERA in nine outings since the all-star break.
Springer had a two-run shot in the third and added a fifth-inning solo drive for his 23rd homer this season as the Blue Jays took a 4-1 lead. He finished with three hits in his 20th career multi-homer game — 19 in the leadoff spot. Only Mookie Betts (20) has more in major league history.
SPRING AND A DRIVE 🤩 <br><br>He did it AGAIN! <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/SpringerDinger?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#SpringerDinger</a> <a href=”https://t.co/sPZJ5pj89i”>pic.twitter.com/sPZJ5pj89i</a>
Kirk had a solo homer during the second, and Hernandez made it 6-1 with a two-run homer in the eighth off Garrett Cleavinger.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit a ninth-inning RBI single.
Randy Arozarena pulled the Rays to 3-1 on a sacrifice fly in the third.
Sunday’s announced crowd was 16,394, giving the Rays a final home attendance for the season of 1,128,127. The total will be the third lowest in the majors. Tampa Bay drew 1,178,735 in 2019, the least year before two seasons with COVID attendance restrictions in place. The Rays have drawn under 1.3 million at home every year since 2015.
Springer has three homers in 13 at-bats against McClanahan. … Rays shortstop Wander Franco extended his career-high hitting streak to 12 games with a third-inning single. … Tampa Bay first baseman Harold Ramirez had three hits.
Retiring Rays bullpen coach Stan Boroski and major league medical coordinator Paul Harker threw ceremonial first pitches. Boroski is in his 13th season with the team, while Harker joined the Rays for their inaugural season in 1998.
Rays: Third baseman Yandy Diaz (left shoulder) was out of the lineup for the sixth straight game but could start Tuesday.
Blue Jays: Open a home series Monday night against the New York Yankees.
Rays: Corey Kluber (10-9) will pitch in Cleveland for first since leaving the team after the 2019 season. Kluber, who won the AL Cy Young Award with Cleveland in 2014 and 17, will face fellow right-hander Shane Bieber (12-8).
Glasnow expected to start Wednesday
Rays right-hander Tyler Glasnow is scheduled to rejoin the rotation Wednesday night at Cleveland after missing nearly 14 months because of Tommy John surgery.
The Rays’ opening day starter last year hasn’t pitched this season after undergoing the procedure on Aug. 4, 2021.
“I think we’re pretty confident he’ll be starting for us Wednesday,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said Sunday. “This is the first time he’s thrown pain-free in quite some time, so he’s encouraged by it.”
The six-foot-eight right-hander went 5-2 with a 2.66 earned-run average in 14 starts last year and is a key addition as the Rays near a wild-card spot.
“Compared to the past, like, three years it feels way better … the week leading into starts and stuff,” Glasnow said. “It’s good to have an [ulnar collateral ligament], you know.”
Cash said Glasnow would throw around 45 pitches in his initial outing, which should allow him to go two or three innings.
Kiermaier playing future unclear
Injured Tampa Bay centre-fielder Kevin Kiermaier had an eventful week during the Rays’ final regular-season homestand.
He was the third person in the television booth for Wednesday night’s game against Houston, and got a video tribute during Saturday night’s game with Toronto.
The 32-year-old Kiermaier, in the final season of a six-year deal worth $53.5 million, faces an uncertain off-season following season-ending left hip surgery nearly two months ago. The Rays have a $13 million option for 2023, which they will likely decline in favor of a $2.5 million buyout.
Kiermaier said no when asked if he thought the video tribute felt like a goodbye.
“It was more of an appreciation to me,” Kiermaier said before the Rays’ regular-season home finale Sunday. “Being realistic, I don’t know if that was my final Saturday game for me here in the regular season. A lot of unknowns. I don’t know if I will be putting on this uniform and taking that field again.”
Kyle Dubas begins Maple Leafs training camp with an Intro to Tragedy 101 lecture – The Globe and Mail
At this point, you sort of feel sorry for Kyle Dubas every time he talks.
What’s he going to say that will change anybody’s mind? And given that impossibility, why does he have to keep saying it?
But the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager keeps getting pushed out on stage at the end of a sword. Once there, he keeps saying the same silly things. He was out there again this week as training camp started, doing this semester’s first lecture of Intro to Tragedy 101.
“Nobody wants to hear us talking about it,” Dubas said. “They want to see us do.”
Fair enough. Under the circumstances, not bad.
Then, not one minute later: “Our goal is not to win one round. It’s to win four.”
There you go talking about it. How about you win one round and then start lipping off about how you’ve got the big one right there in your sights.
At this point, you sound like a guy who’s just booked his flight to Kathmandu, looks off in the general direction of Everest and says, “Just a few more steps.” Maybe get to base camp before you start setting your intentions in front of the class.
This is the conundrum of modern sports communications. You don’t want to say nothing, because people will fill the void for you. But anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of media law.
Nobody’s good at explaining losing, but right now no one is as bad at it as the Leafs. Their answer to everything is that meme of a cartoon dog drinking coffee in the midst of a house fire saying, “This is fine.”
Has that dog been copyrighted? Because he should be the new Leafs mascot. Then they can send him out to do the talking.
To varying degrees, everyone on this team is trapped in a conversational loop from four years ago.
“We’ve obviously been right there,” captain John Tavares said.
To whom is that obvious, exactly? And how are you defining “right there?”
“We’ve established ourselves as an elite team in this league,” head coach Sheldon Keefe said.
I’ve just realized the perfect thing to get the Leafs for their birthday – a dictionary.
First thing you do, look up the words ‘established,’ ‘elite’ and, just for kicks, ‘team.’
Everybody’s bad at it, but the weight falls on Dubas. He’s the boss, plus he wears glasses. So he must know what’s going on.
Once one of the more forthcoming, three-dimensional GMs in hockey, Dubas’s public persona has been beaten flat by years of failure. He still sounds excited, but excited about talking so fast, for so long, that there is the slim possibility he may avoid facing more questions.
When he gets one he doesn’t have a great answer to (ie. a lot of them), he retreats into hockey boilerplate.
Why do you like this team, someone asked (an inside-out way of asking the more interesting question – why don’t you dislike this team?).
“Everything they are doing now is about winning,” Dubas said.
What were they doing before when, you know, they were losing? Was that about winning, too? When I’m in my car, is everything I’m doing about driving, even when I’m wrapping it around a phone pole?
‘Leafs disease’ – that’s what they used to call losing on the steady with no hint of an intention to change. The virus has mutated. Leafs disease is now a condition whereby rampant verbosity replaces results.
The miserable teams of Leafs yore knew enough to hang their heads when things were going sideways. This team believes the answer to every disaster is to schedule a TED Talk called Losing Your Way to Victory.
The sentences are a problem, but the presentation may be worse.
Has there ever been a more mirthless pro sports organization? When it gets dark for other teams in other sports, a few of them are able to triangulate the ridiculousness of treating who wins this or that game like a real-world problem.
Not the Leafs.
No jokes. No little asides. Absolutely zero capacity to laugh at themselves, from any member of the organization.
To be fair, this isn’t just a Toronto problem – it’s a hockey problem. But it’s still a shame. Canadians are supposed to be funny and hockey is meant to be a retreat from real life. A little gallows humour might put this team’s situation into perspective. It might even win you some credit for having your priorities straight.
Instead, the Leafs have confused solemnity for seriousness. That doesn’t leave them any room to say, “Listen, I didn’t blow that play. I was trying to wave at my mom in the crowd as the puck drifted between my skates” when things go wrong.
They have figured out one thing – that no one is going to believe this team is for real until the second after it proves it is.
That moment cannot arrive until the third or fourth week of April (though it can certainly be disproven before then).
That leaves the Leafs with seven months of sound bites to fill. When you lose three in a row, “four rounds,” “proved we are elite” and “been right there” is not going to work. You’ve set yourself a standard both so high and so hard to credit that you have no rhetorical wiggle room. All you can do is repeat the same affirmations while your audience turns into 20,000 hecklers. That’s a lot of pressure.
So forget about the playoffs. If the Leafs can make it to December without at least one of them cracking it’ll be a Christmas miracle.
The obvious solution – from here until April, don’t say anything. If you feel you must, hire Rick Mercer or Ali Hassan as your next assistant GM. I’m not sure how big they are on hockey, but they will vastly improve the entertainment value of your excuses.
Auger-Aliassime, Sock cut Team World's deficit at Laver Cup – TSN
How to Start Investing With Little Money – Yahoo Canada Finance
Homer-happy Blue Jays regain 2-game lead over Rays in AL wild-card race – CBC Sports
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