Updated: Mar 4, 2019
Canadian Basketball Ambassador is a role shared by the many Canadian Basketball Players playing abroad in post secondary institutions and professional leagues. Andrew Hunter former Greater Toronto Area (GTA) All Star from Jean Vanier Catholic High School, in Scarborough, Ontario, had the honor, very few players get, representing Canada in 40 different countries over a span of a 10 year professional career. Despite the many different cultures and languages, as an ambassador Andrew represented the values of his family and country as a college athlete and a professional player. On the court he had numerous awards and team successes. Off the court his belief in the importance of higher education persevered as he earned his Bachelors Degree at Sacred Heart University. Next, as a professional player he leveraged his pro status in the European Market to earn a full scholarship from Henley Business School in Reading, United Kingdom and earned his Masters of Business Administration (MBA). Finally his strength of character shined by starting Huntera Enterprise a company to help youth throughout the world, achieve their goals through Sports and Information Technology.
The Journey of An Ambassador
The role of Canadian Ambassador was instilled early in Andrew, when in 1983 at 4yrs old his family moved from Ajax, Ontario to Kingston, Jamaica. After 4 years of living the reverse of so many of us immigrants, Andrew would return from Jamaica and move to Scarborough in the Kennedy Rd and Ellesmere Avenue area. It’s on his return he was introduced to the game of basketball. It was the mid 80’s and the glory years of the NBA when today’s hall
“In middle school, I can remember playing outside alone at recess even when it snowed. The love I had for the game early on fuelled my career." - Andrew Hunter
Andrew was first schooled on how to play basketball by his two older brothers on a little outdoor rim in Scarborough. Andrew’s Uncle had a mobile truck washing company and his brothers worked for him and in the spirit of business they subcontracted some of there work to little Andrew. The companies head office was at Morningside Ave. and Shepherd Rd. and the outdoor rim was attached to the side of the building. There in-between washing trucks, Andrew’s basketball foundation was laid.
From an early age it was apparent there was something special about Andrew. In grade 7 he started dunking while at St. Lawrence Middle School at Lawrence and Kennedy in Scarborough and based on the excitement he stirred up, Andrew was on track to do great things with the game. 8th grade came and it was time to make the decision what high school to attend. Sir Winston Churchill H.S. was across the street from his middle school but Andrew's mother preferred sending Andrew to a Catholic School because there she felt he would receive a great education and experience continued spiritual growth.
"Growing up we were always taught that with a deep rooted belief in God and hard work we could achieve anything. It is this belief that continues to drive me today" - Andrew Hunter
With change, usually comes stress and moving from middle school to high school was no different. Andrew’s was nervous about attending a different high school from many of his close friends but fate being on his side he had an opportunity to attend Camp Olympia in Markham, Ontario the summer before his freshman year. At Camp Olympia, Andrew continued to do what came naturally to him, dunking the ball and dominating the competition. Quickly his high flying caught the attention of Sean Stewart a senior basketball player at Jean Vanier CHS who was one of the camp counsellors. Fast forward to the first day of school and on his arrival at Jean Vanier, Sean spotted Andrew and took him under his wing. High school had just started and people already knew about the freshman high flyer with the thunderous dunks! The ice was broken and the door opened to meet many friends
The high school years for Andrew was a quite build up to a great legacy. Jean Vanier was a premier basketball school in the Toronto Catholic Schools Athletics Association (TCSAA) with several of Scarborough’s biggest basketball names. Jan Michael Nation (Ryerson U. Hall of Fame), Sean Stewart, Kevin Tatham, Sandy Jeffries and Jason Bullen. The climb to top for Andrew would begin in his backyard battlling these guys for every point and every win until he was on top...
“The battles together with these guys unlocked my competitiveness. I can remember diving on concrete to get the ball so I could have a chance to win a close game of 21." - Andrew Hunter
"Not sure where to begin but I can assure you that he was a hell of a competitor, never liked to lose and was hard to beat! Which in essence made a lot of us better. Andrew was the most athletic among us but Jan (Nation) had the most heart and I was more skilled at the time. With us around him so much he benefitted from both traits. I can remember days playing against him wearing dockers and he was still getting way above the rim. I can remember when he first came back from Connecticut and he had some new skills to his game. I was amazed at how his game changed and started maturing. I'd say University really tuned his skills and playing pro overseas gave him character." - Terence Hyacinth, Jean Vanier H.S.
Based on the packed gyms and heated exchanges, one of the biggest Catholic School rivalries of that era had to be Jean Vanier CHS versus Mother Terasa CSS. Since the entry of Keith Vassell in 1988 , Mother Teresa boasted an "A" list of Ontario's best basketball players. In Andrew's day Mother Teresa once again featured a cast of Scarborough's elite, Dean Labayan, Ashkan Raji, Dwayne Elder and Jay McNeilly. For Jean Vanier they were the high hurdle on the road to the TCSAA League Championship...
"The gym was always packed for those games. Winning and losing really meant something!" - Andrew Hunter
The GTA Public Schools were the dominant programs with the big stars. - Dwayne Dacres-Bathurst CI, Wayne Smith-Bathurst CI and Videl Massiah-Eastern Commerce. The Catholic League had great talent but not the depth of talent as the GTA Public Leagues. The Catholic League competition was inconsistent in level of play and viewed as the D-League to the Public School NBA. This view would add to Andrew’s quiet rise to Ontario’s elite. Despite the inconsistent quality of the Catholic league Andrew was selected to play in the Metro All Star Game (Co-Founded by the late Bernie Offstein and Marvin Pearl) alongside all the big name Toronto stars on center stage at Jarvis Collegiate in downtown Toronto...
"Making the Metro All Star Team sent a message to the basketball community in Toronto that I was among the best." - Andrew Hunter
Andrew credits several individuals for assisting him on his journey to becoming a member of Canada's Basketball Elite. The culture of professionalism and competitiveness at Jean Vanier was instilled by Coach Don Marchione.
"Coach Don Marchione – Was a big part of my success as a student athlete. You got a real sense that he was a good man and coaching for the right reasons. You felt it in how he coached our team. His emphasis on defense served me well into my pro years. I can remember in my 3rd year playing professionally in France, defense became my calling card and it got me multiple contracts over the years. Coach Marchione's advice and support specifically in grade 12 was key. A university was interested in offering me a scholarship but wanted me to do a year of prep in the United States. On the surface it looked like a good opportunity but Coach Marchione along with my parents thought differently. The education was the most important thing. 'If they weren't prepared to make an offer now, there is no guarantee later', coach advised. So after discussing it with my parents we decided to pass on their offer and shortly there received a full scholarship to attend Sacred Heart University. Coach's guidance was important because parents aren't always familiar with the ins and outs of NCAA sports; in the end most kids just want to ball. Coach Marchione's assistant was Ozzie Celebre. He was on the same page as Coach and together they were just great mentors and did all they could to help their players succeed." - Andrew Hunter
Outside of school club basketball was in its infancy and travel teams outside the city limits were almost unheard of. Andrew and his peers were at the end of an era where club ball and outside basketball training was the life of a nomad. When and where there was word of an opportunity or game, bags were packed and bikes were saddled. Covering the city by bike was a part of the athlete development journey back then. No neighborhood was out of bounds and your teammates were the new faces in search of the same opportunities.
"We were like basketball nomads, wherever there were runs, games, training, we went after it. Riding our bikes from Scarborough to Downtown or North York was quite normal. One day Jan (Nation) told me he was going with Basil and Brian Dawkins to work out with their brother Wayne Dawkins. I don't even remember where the gym was, we just got on our bikes and all rode. When we got there I just remember us doing ball handling drills. What stood out was the attention to detail. It felt like I was learning to dribble again, working on the fundamentals of it. Back then it was hard to find people that focused on skill development." - Andrew Hunter
When club basketball started getting more popular, Andrew played for the Scarborough Roadrunners. One of the foundation youth club basketball programs at the time. It was the Roadrunners that would provide Andrew with local competition but it was the Godfather of AAU, Bob Marsh who would provide Andrew with the American competition he longed to test his skills against. Bob Marsh had already set up a pipeline for young GTA Ballers to travel south for AAU games and through word of mouth Andrew was able to get in contact with him...
"A few of my friends were playing on Coach Bob's team at the time so I thought it was a great opportunity to gain some U.S. exposure." - Andrew Hunter
Andrew built a reputation in open runs around the city and in the famous University of Toronto leagues in downtown Toronto and their Scarborough campus Andrew would become legendary for his assault on the rims with his patented hammer dunks.
How To Use Basketball
Andrew's decisions to use the game of basketball to further his life was always the reflection of his faith and calculated decision making. Andrew didn't follow the hype, he made sure his education and stability of his future family came first. In 1997 Andrew skipped his OAC year (grade 13 in Ontario) of high school and left in grade 12, choosing a smaller school, Sacred Heart University to assure himself a full ride at a strong academic institution. Andrew credits the strength of his parents for instilling an unwavering work ethic.
"After discussing it with my parents and coach, I decided to forgo the OAC year, I wanted to start my collegiate career. Many of the top guys I competed against moved on and that certainly impacted my decision. My time to get exposure was shortened but towards the end of the school season I got an offer from Sacred Heart University so it was time to pursue another challenge south of the border." - Andrew Hunter
With a firm scholarship offer to attend Sacred Heart from Head Coach Dave Bike and Assistant Coach Kevin Philips, it was time for Andrew to embark on a familiar role from early in his childhood as an ambassador from Canada and leave for the United States. On his departure Andrew's list of accolades in high school included, Metro All Star, 3x TDCAA All Star, 2x Vanier Team MVP and school Athlete of the Year. Andrew was also recently inducted into the Jean Vanier Hall of Fame.
Andrew would have a solid university career but the choice of attending a great academic school over a big name basketball powerhouse meant exposure at the collegiate level would not be as great. Sacred Heart University had just moved from NCAA D2 to the NCAA D1 and experienced all the growing pains of adjusting to a new level. Andrew's four years would pass quickly and the NBA wasn't calling but Andrew was determine to make his dreams of playing pro basketball a reality.
"The Goal was always the NBA but Europe was the next option. A former Sacred Heart alum Kevin Vulin played in Portugal so I knew it was possible for athletes from smaller schools to receive professional contracts. I got in touch with an agent through a former teammate Louis Frye. The agent had an Exposure Camp in Toronto and I received and invitation. I played really well and got my first deal from a team located in Oliveira du Hospital in Northern Portugal. I remember my first game I was so energized I dunked the ball way passed the rim but I settled down and went on to average 24pts and 7rbs for the season." - Andrew Hunter
Andrew never looked back after getting his first contract in Portugal. Every season he moved up the league in Europe and with every move it there was the stamp of a new country in his passport, Germany, France, Austria, Poland, Lebanon, Venezuela, Estonia, Mexico, China, Hungary, Spain and more. With each new country Andrew grew in his role as an ambassador to his new team and his country of birth, Canada.
The Decision to Stop Playing
In 2013 after earning his MBA while playing professionally. Andrew had the opportunity to trade in his basketball uniform for a suit. Andrew would pursue the corporate world with the same drive and strategic thinking that made him a successful professional basketball player.
In Andrew's mind he had 3 or 4 more years so he decided to parlay his remaining years to get his MBA. Andrew was influenced by his sister who had got her MBA from Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto and is doing extremely well. In 2009 Andrew new his time to leverage his playing credentials in exchange for his Masters being paid for was now, while he was still a sought after pro. While playing in Germany, Andrew applied and got into a university's masters program. The team agreed to pay for it but a corporate sponsor pulled out due to the global economic downturn and the money was no longer available.
Andrew immediately started looking for another team to play for, not for the strength of the team but for the reputation of their business schools. Andrew searched and found University of Durham. He spoke to the coach of a professional team in the area and there was mutual interest but the timing was not ideal. He would then discover Henley Business School the 4th ranked, triple accredited business school in the United Kingdom. Andrew reached out to the Director and sent her a letter explaining he was a professional athlete and wanted to pursue his MBA. Shortly after he was granted a Skype interview to discuss admission. In that interview Andrew was told there was a scholarship sponsored by the Daily Telegraph. The Telegraph is widely regarded as Great Britain's National Newspaper of record and it maintains an international reputation for its high quality. Andrew would have to write an essay on sustainability in the emerging markets and he would receive a full scholarship if it was selected as one of the top submissions. Andrew's essay was well received and he was granted a full scholarship. Next move would be to contact the local team, the Reading Rockets and negotiate a playing contract. With his resume as a player, they could not refuse locking him up and Andrew would play his final professional games as a Reading Rocket.
Andrew graduated and got his MBA with still more playing opportunities in front of him but, in faith he believed greater opportunities were ahead with his MBA in hand. Andrew also fell in love with real estate and from early in his career invested his earnings as a professional in buying properties. This proved a wise decision for Andrew. At the time Andrew had a mentor working at the Royal Bank of Canada who encouraged him to look into the Graduate Leadership Program with the bank. The RBC Graduate Leadership Program would allow him to experience different parts of the bank and gain greater leadership skills in the process. Andrew spoke to the hiring manager from England and it went very well. He then scheduled a trip to return to Canada and met in person. He would receive the recommendation and was granted a formal interview.
"I met with the executive panel on the 40th floor at RBC Plaza. It was quite a rigorous interview process. On the drive to the interview I felt an energy very similar to what I felt before a big game. I had to work hard to develop that type of interview skills that would allow me to get this opportunity. Fortunately through playing basketball at a high level I had already learned how to prepare myself to enter the room with the confidence and meet the challenge. - Andrew Hunter
Today Andrew holds a position as Senior Commercial Account Manager, Real Estate and Construction for RBC. His sights set on furthering his expertise in the Real Estate and Construction Industry.
P.H.A.S.E. 1 Community Ambassador
P.H.A.S.E. 1 is excited to share once again in Andrew's Journey of An Elite 1, with his acceptance of the role of a "P.H.A.S.E. 1 Community Ambassador ". Andrew will become a part of our team of Elite 1's that will represent P.H.A.S.E. 1 as we continue to develop and support initiatives in communities around the world.
"Andrew Hunter's achievements are a reflection of the values of a true role model for youth and a great example for us adults as well. His goals have been that of a leader in pursuit of a higher purpose and we look forward to working together to reach as many as possible." - Wayne Dawkins, P.H.A.S.E. 1