There isn't much to do in Mono, Ont.
It's a small town of about 8,000 people just over an hour's drive northwest of Toronto. For 18-year-old Darius DeAveiro that means most evenings these days are spent perched in front of the TV watching the NBA Playoffs.
Lately, that's meant watching the Canadians in the NBA, specifically Jamal Murray and the Denver Nuggets. Over the past few weeks, Murray has taken the NBA Playoffs by storm. He's averaging 27 points a game and he's propelled the Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals. The 23-year-old phenom has been the talk of the NBA around the world, but for DeAverio, he's not just another talented basketball player. To him, Murray is a role model and pioneer.
"It really makes you believe that your dreams aren’t out of reach just because you go to school in Canada," said DeAverio, a 5-foot-10 senior guard from Orangeville Prep.
It wasn't long ago that Murray was in the same position DeAverio finds himself in today. Back in 2013, Murray was an extremely skilled basketball player from Kitchener, Ont. who was taking a chance on the Orangeville Prep. basketball academy in Mono.
At the time, Murray was just a boy trying to chase a dream.
"I was a little kid just like dumb, playing in the streets," he said. "I was out there on the court every day not knowing I’d be in the Western Conference finals at 23 years old."
When he moved to Mono, the intensity increased, and a year later, when Thon Maker joined the Orangeville program, the scouts began showing up in droves.
Today Orangeville has become one of Canada's premier basketball programs. The walls of the gym are lined with the jerseys of their NBA products: Murray, Maker, Luguentz Dort, Ignas Brazdeikis, Oshae Brissett, and Kyle Alexander.
"It really reminds us high schoolers that anything is possible no matter where you come from," DeAverio said.
Murray's recent hot streak has brought increased attention to Orangeville's program. For the boys like DeAverio, that means more collegiate attention and more chances to impress scouts. That's a source of pride for Murray.
"It’s good to be a pioneer," Murray said. "I’m gonna keep doing what I can for Canada and for Orangeville, for Kitchener. It’s cool to see all these kids look up to me as someone they want to be like because I looked up to a lot of guys and now I’m having the chance to go and play against them. So I’m just going to keep trying to be a role model for those young kids and go back there and see them when I can."
That impact is already paying off at the NBA level. It was just a few weeks ago that Oklahoma City's Dort, a Montréal-Nord native, was helping put Orangeville on the map with his spectacular first round playoff performance, shutting down Houston's James Harden and putting up 30 points in Game 7.
"He’s an example, he was underrated as well in Canada." Murray said of the Thunder's rookie guard. "Having that platform in Orangeville gave us a lot of young players, even now, growing up to be seen and be recognized in a different light than the media might put them out to be, so it’s good to see all these Canadian talents coming out of the blue and coming out of different places and we’re going to keep doing that, keep developing our guys and keep pushing on."
Now Murray Mania is sweeping the continent. Heading into Game 7 against the Los Angeles Clippers, he had seen his Twitter following grow by 27 thousand followers, up 24% in the month of August, the highest follower growth of any NBA player with at least 100k followers. In Canada, his performances have led to a boom in TV ratings for games involving two American teams which are up 41% from last year.
"It’s cool to turn some heads," Murray said. "Coming from Canada I’m always having people doubt me or doubt my ability or know what we can do on the court. So as a group, when we win these games and fight back and play a certain way, it’s cool to see everybody react to that and make these non-believers into believers and all these criticizers eat their words."
When the playoffs eventually end for Murray, he said he'll return home and get back to helping out his community back in Kitchener. He wants to spend some time with his family, training with his father, Roger, and his younger brother, Lamar.
But until then, DeAverio will be watching and cheering, working during the days before returning home to watch his predecessors who are paving the way for him to one day achieve his dream.