When Bennedict Mathurin signed up to join the NBA Academy in 2018 he couldn't have known what to expect.
He was playing with the Quebec provincial basketball team when a coach approached him with the idea. At the time, Mathurin — now a 6-foot-6, four-star prospect — was struggling with his recruitment, feeling a little unnoticed in Montreal. So after some discussion with his family, he decided to join the program, becoming the first Canadian to do so.
Two years later, Mathurin is a pioneer for the program and as he heads to Arizona next season, he's paving the way for other Canadians basketball prospects to take the same unorthodox path to college and potentially professional basketball through one of the NBA Academies around the world.
"It's one of the greatest things to be in," Mathurin said. "It already has a foot in the NBA, going through a lot of tournaments, to play in front of college scouts and NBA scouts, to just be in the NBA Acadamy is a great thing."
Alongside Mathurin is fellow Montreal native Olivier-Maxence Prosper, a 6-foot-7 forward, who joined the academy shortly after Mathurin and will be heading to Clemson next year.
When Prosper first joined the academy he said the transition was tough. He was used to being away from home, coming from a prep school in Illinois, but Mexico was very different.
"It was a little difficult at first, like the transition between different cultures," Prosper said. "But I felt like the NBA Academy made it easy for us to really adapt to the different cultures and Mexico in general. After a couple of weeks you get the hang of it and start learning Spanish because you're around it every day."
The time in Mexico forced the boys to mature and grow both on and off the basketball court. It's something that's become a bit of a hallmark for boys coming out of the academy and something that impressed Clemson basketball coach Brad Brownell about Prosper.
"I think what (moving to Mexico) shows is a certain level of maturity," Brownell said. "To move away that far from your family, you've got to be a mature young man, you've got to be mature, you've got to be focused, you've got to be hungry... and (Prosper) is certainly all those things that I mentioned."
That's what has made the boys so special to the NBA Academy, according to the program's senior director Chris Ebersole. They came in as very talented basketball prospects, but they more refined both on and off the court.
"We are hugely proud of them both," Ebersole said. "They both came in with a goal to play high-major college basketball (and) they're going to two of the top programs in the country."
If Mathurin and Prosper find success at the next level there is little doubt that college recruits will be back at the academy to look at the boys following in their footsteps.
That should be good news for Canadian Tre-Vaugn Minott, a 6-foot-10 junior, who will be back at the NBA Academy next season. After that, Ebersole isn't sure how many Canadians will be in the program going forward, but with Mathurin and Prosper paving the way there should be plenty more Canadian boys vying to scholarships to the program.
*For more information on how to get into the program, Ebersole suggests following the NBA Academy Instagram account and continuing to improve on the basketball court*