For the eighth straight season, Canada has the most players in the NBA outside of the U.S., with a record 25 currently rostered on teams. At this point, there’s no denying it: the Great White North’s basketball pipeline is exploding, with the country churning out top-tier talent at a historic rate. And Jamil Abiad is one of the people at the heart of the movement.
A global basketball trainer and public speaker, Abiad has devoted his life developing the next generation of Canadian ballers. After a brief pro career, he began cutting his coaching teeth operating training programs around his Ottawa. Today, via his business NL Fitness, he runs camps for junior and senior basketball athletes across the country, offering his own unique training methods aimed at syncing the body and mind for optimal performance. He’s also the man behind Team Believe, an Ottawa-based competitive basketball organization, composed of U17 and U19 teams, which offers student athletes an outlet outside of pricey prep programs that can help them level-up their skills for college and university.
All this to say, Abiad is doing his part to make Ottawa the next hotbed of hoops talent, and to ensure Canada remains one of the world’s top basketball prospect factories. But in order to help his players perform at their very best, he’s got to be at his very best too. That’s why we tapped him to walk us through his morning routine in the above video; from lining up his beard with his Gillette ProGlide to planning out his lessons, he shows us how he gets ready to operate at peak levels every day.
When did your basketball journey begin?
I started pretty late at the age of 13. I played soccer my whole life, but I found a quick love for basketball, especially the side of it where people were like, “What are you doing? You’re short, you can’t do this.” That was
the initial spark that ignited me to get serious with it because I wanted to prove to everybody that I could do it. I used that as fuel to train harder and longer and by Grade 12, I was one of the best players in my city. After school I had the opportunity to play in university and was there for five years, finished, and then had the opportunity to go play overseas for about two and a half years. While I was back and forth from playing, I was doing a lot of one-on-one training back in Ottawa and running basketball camps. I decided to hang up the shoes after my last season in 2018, branch out on my own, and do this full time to help others reach the next level.
“Now kids don’t have to go across the border to find proper basketball training or get into exposure teams. We’re offering that literally right here.”
What’s it been like to witness and take part in the explosion of basketball in Canada over the last half-decade?
It’s gradually gone up over the years, but the biggest peak was as soon as the Raptors won a championship in 2019. After the Raptors won, it literally blew up. I started getting emails from parents like, “Hey, my kid’s a hockey player or soccer player, but he’s very interested in basketball. How does it work?” But now, as the years have progressed, a lot of prep programs and leagues are starting to pop up, so now coaches from across the border are starting to come down here and you’re starting to see a lot more Canadians being recruited to play Division I. We have had a pro league in Canada for a while now, but the emergence of the CEBL has also helped skyrocket the basketball interest here in the country. The way they were able to tie in USPORTS, get a broadcasting contract, and have Canada Basketball on board was huge in bridging the gaps at different stages.
Having those stepping stones and bringing those programs to the Canadian basketball scene is not only giving kids an opportunity, but something they’re able to connect with firsthand. You know, when you can touch something, you believe it more. So the fact that you’re able to see your brother who was playing university basketball now playing professionally, or you can go to a game and see guys that are only five or seven years older than you playing professional basketball, as a younger kid, you’re like, “I can get there. I can do that. I can believe it.” The random guy in your city that is currently going to your school or who’s walking into grocery stores with you is now playing pro. It’s something that can spark your interest, but also make it a lot more believable for you to get started.
How have you seen the country’s basketball development programs grow in that time?
You know, now kids don’t have to go across the border to find proper basketball training or get into exposure teams. We’re offering that literally right here. So there’s no need to spend all that money. We’re giving all these opportunities for kids to stay here and get what they would get anywhere else in the world, and I think it’s only going to get better the next couple years. If you look at our national team, we’re at the point now where we have so many NBA players that we have to cut some from our roster. You see guys like Jamal Murray, who’s blooming in the NBA. Chris Boucher is stepping up. Dort is picking up like crazy. Khem Birch. All these guys that are becoming household names for Canadian basketball. It’s a testament to the level of Canadian basketball right now and how it’s risen across the country.
How important is it for you to start your day out right in order to help these kids be their best?
It’s huge. I tell these kids, nothing is ever given to you. You have to work hard for everything. Never be satisfied. You’re never as good as you think you are, you’re never as bad as you think you are. People are always trying to catch up to you and there’s people that are always ahead of you. So, if you have a good game today, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a shit game tomorrow. You still have to work. You still have to grind. After that celebration is done, it has to be like, OK, I’m grinding again, next one. You never want to be content and settle because I think once you take your foot off the gas is when shit hits the fan. So I always start my day with that mindset: How can I be better today? What can I do? How can I help? That fuels me to keep my foot on the gas. And getting those phone calls or texts from players saying, “Coach, I had a great game” or “Thank you so much, my shot is fixed” or seeing one of my players post that they had a big breakout game and just signed a new contract—those are things that make me want to keep going.
You maybe don’t get asked this too often, but is it important for you to start your day looking your best too?
It’s 100 percent important. People always ask me, “How come it always seems like you’ve got a line-up?” or “Why are you always on point?” And for me, having my own business and working with people on a regular basis, your first impression always matters. You never know who you’re going to meet or who you’re going to run into at any point. So I wouldn’t want to run into somebody who sees me for the first time and I don’t know what type of network they have and I look like a slob. I’m always trying to be clean shaven and look like I’m ready to take on whatever job anybody may have to offer. (Get your shaving tips here to look fresh like Jamil.) I want to be ready to meet whoever it is at any point.
Who are some up-and-coming basketball players in the Canadian development system that people are buzzing about right now?
I mean, Elijah Fischer is a big one. Everyone’s talking about him. As far as the guys that I have here in the city, for me, it’s more the university guys that are buzzing and getting ready to move onto the next level. So here in Ottawa, there’s Brayden O’Connor, a kid that I have worked with on and off over the years. He now plays for the CTA program. He’s probably one of the top kids in—I wouldn’t say in Ottawa but in—even just Ontario. He’s an explosive guard, six-foot-four. He’ll probably start getting some Division I offers. A kid that’s also part of my program is Salih Halawa. He’s a 6-foot-5, super explosive athlete.
He’s going to be slowly getting onto the radar once we start picking up our season, for sure. Another kid I have on the radar is Liban Abdallah. He’s a 6-foot-7 three man. He’ll pick up some interest from university programs as well.
You’re obviously extremely passionate about helping these young basketball players reach their full potential. Why is that?
My basketball journey was a rough one. And living in Ottawa, what I had growing up is night and day compared to what we have now. If I grew up today, I don’t know where I’d be in terms of basketball. I could have maybe gone to the States and who knows, right? So for me, it’s just about giving back because I would have wanted what these kids have now. I take it personally to give these kids the opportunity because I know there’s going to be a lot of kids who are in the shoes I was in, who are so passionate and want to get better and want to play in university, and all they’re missing is someone to give them that platform. And with that, they can excel. If I could help a couple of kids get to university or take them out of the streets and then, who knows, maybe help them play professionally and support their family, it’s worth it. So that motivates me every day. Besides, I thoroughly enjoy it. I mean, it’s not really work for me.