Quebec’s Olivier Rioux, world’s tallest teenager, chases basketball dream at Canada Games

Olivier Rioux landed with a big exclamation point on Michael Meeks’ radar when the Canadian basketball coach opened a photo in his mailbox seven years ago.

Rio attended a children’s basketball camp in Montreal and posed for a photo with then-Detroit Pistons and Canadian center Joel Anthony, who is a towering six-foot-nine.

“Ron Yeung [Canada Basketball’s manager of domestic development] sent me this picture of Olivier and Joel, and Olivier is about the same height, plus or minus an inch. Ron says, “This boy is nine years old,” Meeks said.

“I immediately called and found out who he was and what was going on and how we could help.”

Rio has since grown to a whopping seven foot six. He can dunk in an NBA hoop while barely lifting his feet.

Guinness World Records recognized him as the tallest teenager in the world when he was 15 years old and seven foot five. If he were playing in the NBA now, he would be tied with Cleveland’s Takko Fall as the league’s tallest player.

But Riou is playing for Quebec at the Canada Summer Games this week in Ontario’s Niagara region with kids at least his age, if not anywhere near his size.

Quebec was scheduled to face Saskatchewan on Friday after losing to Alberta on decision 72-70 in Thursday night’s semifinal.

Meeks, who came to the Games to watch Canada’s young players, said he’s seen improvement in Rio even in the last few weeks, but cautions that like any super-tall player, he’s a long-term work in progress.

“People see the size of it and their expectations are pretty high,” Meeks said. “For me, it’s the little things like his mobility and agility, how he moves, how he conceptualizes the game — how much does he enjoy competing and playing?

“It’s important because Olivier and I are in uncharted territory, there’s never been anyone this big at this age before. So we’re kind of cautiously optimistic that it’s definitely moving in the right direction.”

The star of the Internet does not suspect anything

Rio, from Anjou, a neighborhood east of Montreal, will begin 10th grade in the fall in Bradenton, Florida. He moved there a year ago to attend the IMG Academy, a school whose alumni include superstar sisters Serena and Venus Williams. .

“It was nice,” Riou said of his first year away from home. “I called my parents almost every day, and the school year was good, grades went up.

“In Montreal, I went to school for at least eight hours every day. Now I go to school for three hours and work out in the afternoon. This is different,” he added with a deep laugh.

According to him, he is having fun at the Games and took part in boxing competitions.

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Rio 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 the age of 12 while playing in a tournament in Spain. He stood out like a Maypole among the other players on the court. That caught the attention of Golden State star Steph Curry, who tweeted, “So many questions.”

That summer, Jamal Murray posed for a photo next to him. He already towered over the Denver Nuggets star guard from Kitchener, Ont.

Joey McKitterick, who has coached Rio in Montreal’s Brookwood Elite AAU program since he was 12, echoed Meeks in saying he’s seen a lot of improvement in Rio this year, especially as his growth has slowed and his coordination has caught up.

Enjoying the game

But perhaps the most important thing is that Riou is enjoying the game, which is key because the huge expectations come with the super high.

“I think you could see this year that he was enjoying everything about him: basketball, traveling, things like that. He definitely fell in love with it,” McKitterick said.

McKitterick said part of his job coaching Rio was to act as a buffer between the teenagers and curious onlookers.

“When we travel, we can be sitting in a hotel lobby and random strangers come up to us and ask to take pictures. It’s difficult to even get through the airport to catch your flight because people keep stopping you: “Can I take your picture? Can you hold my baby?” Can you do it, can you do it?

“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 guide you, help you, and be there for you in whatever you need.” , because I can’t put myself in your shoes.” No one could.”

That uniqueness makes it hard to gauge where basketball might take him.

“When you see Olivier, every three to six months he’s doing something faster, quicker, stronger, more balanced, he’s getting more agile, his game is getting better, his understanding of how to influence the game is getting better,” said Mix. “It’s important because usually tall players are a bit slower [to develop]and he moves at the right speed from a super tall player’s point of view.

“Usually guys that stopped growing at about 6-3, 6-4, you could see what they were going to be when they were 16 years old. But these tall, tall players are now 24, 25 years old. before it all starts to come together.”

Riou, who likes to study the games of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic, ages 6 to 11, has the right proportions for his height and hasn’t had any serious physical problems, such as the knee pains that can occur with rapid growth.

Among other NBA giants, Gheorghe Mureșan is the tallest ever, standing at seven feet seven. Yao Ming and Shawn Bradley were 7-6. Canada’s 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 Eddy, a 20-year-old from Toronto, is seven-foot-four. Eddie made his debut for Canada’s senior men’s team in a World Cup qualifier in May. The IMG Academy product is entering his junior season with the Purdue Boilermakers, who have also expressed interest in Rioux.

“There are a lot of Division 1 schools that are already very familiar with him,” McKitterick said. “The schools that really focus on him are the ones that value size and want to use him. Because basketball went in the direction of smaller ones [multi-position players]but there are still many programs that still value this size.”

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