NDG native Khem Birch of the National Basketball Association (NBA) Orlando Magic got to spend some time at home recently, as he hosted the second edition of the Khem Birch Elite Basketball Camp. It was a two-day session held at St. Laurent’s Ecole Emile Legault for players aged 7 to 16. The fee that was charged for the camp goes towards assisting kids play basketball at different levels and Birch has been known to pick-up the cost for some players to participate whose families couldn’t afford to pay.” For me it is about giving back,” Khem Birch said. “Growing-up I would have loved to have had an opportunity like this so it is important to me to step-up and contribute.” Coaches who have had an impact on Birch’s life were on hand as instructors, like Rouel Hidalgo of the Brookwood Basketball program. “I had Khem in juvenile and in the Brookwood Elite program,” coach Hidalgo said. “He was raw, a great athlete and a very hard worker.” At a tournament in Ohio when Birch, then 15 was playing on a U17 squad, his emerging talent drew attention. “At those tournaments, the coaches and scouts all flock to the American teams,” Hidalgo said. “We were playing on one of the other gyms and by the start of the second half, word had spread and all the scouts were coming to see Khem.” That started Birch on the path to playing a sport he loved at the highest levels. Hidalgo is proud not by the fact that Birch has attained his dream but by who he has grown into as a person. “Khem is one of the best,” he said. “So humble and hardworking, he is one of the family.” When it came to making it as a pro, Birch should probably have The Beatles Long and Winding Road as his walk-on song, because this athlete is the picture of determination when it came to achieving his goal. From the Pittsburgh Panthers and the University of Nevada Runnin’ Rebels in the NCAA, Birch opted out of his final year of eligibility to be available in the NBA draft, but he went undrafted. That altered his course to Turkey and Greece, as well as playing in the NBA Summer League and the Las Vegas Summer League. Perseverance paid off as Birch signed on with the Orlando Magic in 2017 and his efforts have been rewarded as at the age of 26, the 6-foot—9-inch Birch has been rewarded with a two-year, six-million dollar contract by the Magic. “I am grateful to have attained this goal,” he said. “Grateful but I am not satisfied (as a player), I feel I haven’t hit my stride yet. I have more to learn and give as a player.” Hopefully those strides will continue as Birch dons the uniform of Team Canada as they play in the FIBA World Cup in China starting August 31 when Canada will face Australia in their opening match. Birch has suited up for Canada on several occasions over the years and,” it is always an honour to wear that uniform and represent your country,” he said. Birch had the chance during the qualifying process to play on the hardwood at home at Place Bell in Laval but it was a short visit. Early in the match, Birch took a hand to the eye and was relegated to the sidelines but did get to come back on in the final quarter for a curtain call. “There was great energy in the building from our fans,” he said. “I got to play at home in front of my family and friends and that was special.” From the World Cup it will be back to the business of showing all that Khem Birch indeed has more to give on the NBA stage, as the taste of losing in five games to the eventual World Champion Toronto Raptors doesn’t sit well with the centre man. “Yes, the win was great for Canada and all the fans,” he said. “But I (as a competitor) didn’t like it losing 4-1 to them.”

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