In 2011, the Cleveland Cavaliers picked Tristan Thompson with the fourth overall selection, making him the first Canadian drafted in the NBA lottery. Since then, nine other Canadians have been drafted 14th or higher.
That doesn’t seem like much but considering Canada is a “hockey country” and basketball was an afterthought here until the mid 2000’s, we are slowly turning into a pretty efficient NBA-player-making machine.
Players like Jamal Murray, RJ Barrett, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Brandon Clarke are just a few names off of the top of my head that give hope for the future of Canada basketball, and it’s only looking brighter with the continued development of young Canadian players.
But what if I told you, way back in 2003 there was a prospect out of Oakville, Ontario with more hype than Andrew Wiggins?
An NBA draft hopeful that literally had an All-Canadian Showcase created just for scouts to see him.
A seven-foot-one monster, who averaged 27 points, 19 rebounds and nine assists per game in high school.
Would you believe me?
Let me introduce you to the man, the myth, the legend…
I will admit, I was a tad misleading in the introduction. Ivan Chiriaev is Russian and only moved to Canada when he was 17.
But that doesn’t really matter because (for a very short time) the seven-footer was the most talked about draft prospect Canada basketball had ever seen.
The Rise of Ivan
As previously mentioned, Chiriaev was born in St. Petersburg, Russia and moved to Canada to live with his uncle when he was 17.
Immediately, the teenager got attention as it’s not every day you see a seven-footer with shooting and dribbling abilities like he had. With Dirk Nowitzki emerging as a superstar, everybody wanted to discover their very own European gem.
Quickly, the unknown Russian was getting on everybody’s radar, and in early 2003 Chiriaev was on top of NBA draft boards and regularly popping up high on 2004 NBA mock drafts.
But there was one issue: no one saw him play live.
Chiriaev had some incredible support, with two people close to him claiming he “was the best high school basketball player they’ve ever seen” and “people would leave the gym with looks of astonishment” after seeing him play.
Even crazier was that this seven-foot-one basketball player was listed as a point guard!
What happened to him?
So why isn’t this dude tearing things up in the NBA you ask?
If there was one thing I learned when researching this guy, it’s that he was really, really good at self promotion, which could have helped him reach seventh overall on NBAdraft.net’s 2004 mock draft.
For starters, his averages of 27 points, 17 rebounds and nine assists per game were completely made up. His high school coach, Ron Esteban, admitted in an interview that he doesn’t keep track of his team’s statistics and these numbers are purely guesses.
On top of that, throughout this entire process, Ivan Chiriaev was his biggest fan, here are a few quotes taken directly from Ivan himself…
And my favourite
When you combine an average (alleged) of a near triple double per game and the confidence of Kanye West, it’s only natural that NBA scouts are going to flock to come see you play.
The only issue was that Ivan Chiriaev was not confident, he was delusional.
The Fall of Ivan
In the spring of 2004, NBA scouts knew they had to see Chiriaev play but were weary about judging his abilities when he was playing against some brutal competition.
Let’s make this clear, Chiriaev was playing in arguably one of the worst high school divisions in Ontario.
Believe me, I played for a high school just down the road from the Russian’s alma-mater, this is a division two basketball league in Halton, Ontario where most of the kids on the basketball team are only playing because they didn’t get drafted to the OHL.
So scouts needed to see him live, which leads us to where the “Adidas All-Canadian Classic” comes into play. (FYI, I’m 90 percent sure this game was created just for Ivan as there are no records of this event)
Some, if not all, will say that this is where the hype surrounding Ivan Chiriaev evaporated.
He’s a phony
Despite winning the MVP award for the game (which he allegedly received under an umbrella of boos), scouts left the gym unimpressed.
There were no signs of freak athleticism, no silky jumper, and the best description of his handles I could find?
“He could walk and dribble at the same time.”
After that game, Chiriaev went from a projected top 10 overall pick to going undrafted.
Chiriaev did commit to the Iowa State Cyclones, but never played a game after choosing to play pro ball in Europe. Briefly.
His playing career ended in 2007.
All talk, no game
In conclusion, Chiriaev was much better at talking about how good he was than actually playing basketball.
Canada has never seen a rise and fall quite like Ivan’s. Yes, I remember Anthony Bennett.
In a matter of months, the Russian basketball player went from being the most talked about Canadian high school prospect to the laughing stock of the basketball world.
I’m just happy we’ve had many more Canadian stars since the fraud that is Ivan Chiriaev.