Kellen Tynes forging new path for top Canadian basketball hopefuls

Steven Loung |
March 31, 2019

If you were to take a drive about 15 minutes north of Saint John, N.B., you’d find yourself in the charming suburb of Rothesay, home of the historic Rothesay Netherwood School (RNS) — a private boarding school renowned for its International Baccalaureate program, sprawling 200-acre campus and, most recently, its prep basketball program, led by 11th-grade guard Kellen Tynes.

An elite boarding school in New Brunswick with nearly 150 years of history and a student body of only about 280 students from Grades 6-12 isn’t where you would expect to find a prospective hoops diamond in the rough, but then again all Tynes has done through his entire basketball journey is defy expectations.

A six-foot-two point guard from Dartmouth, N.S., Tynes doesn’t seem like much at first glance, and then you see him play.

This season at RNS, Tynes averaged 29.3 points, 4.1 assists and an absurd 6.2 steals per game while shooting 50.2 per cent from the field playing in the National Preparatory Association (NPA), a coast-to-coast Canadian high school basketball prep circuit.

“If you just judge him based on what he looks like walking down the road, no, he’s not going to stand out,” said Damian Gay, Tynes’ RNS basketball coach. “But he’s a killer and once you give him the opportunity to kill, he definitely takes advantage of it.”

Tynes’ scoring and steal averages both led the NPA this season, but he ended up getting beaten out by Jahcobi Neath of 2018-19 NPA champions Crestwood Preparatory College for the MVP award, a small slight to Tynes in a basketball career that, so far, has been built on them.

On Sunday evening, Tynes will participate in the 2019 Biosteel All-Canadian, an annual Canadian high school basketball all-star game in the same vein as the McDonald’s All-American. However, despite his strong play this season, he didn’t make the initial cut of the game’s final roster and was only added late as an injury replacement.

Had the opportunity with the injury not come up, no one from the Maritime provinces would’ve been represented at this year’s Biosteel All-Canadian.

“Eastern Canada was just besides themselves when he wasn’t on that list,” said Gay, who is also originally from Nova Scotia and played basketball professionally in Europe and the NBLC. “I didn’t have to say anything because every basketball community from Newfoundland to New Brunswick to Nova Scotia was just absolutely appalled that he didn’t make that supposed top-24 All-Canadian roster.”

This initial defensive response Atlantic Canada’s basketball community had speaks to a larger stigma the region has dealt with for years now and is something Tynes has grown up with.

“Every time I step onto the court I try to play for my team, my school, but I definitely try to play for Nova Scotia as well,” Tynes said over the phone. “There’s a lot of good ballers in Toronto and those places, but there’s definitely a lot in the Maritimes, and I’m from Nova Scotia, so every time I step onto the court I try to show them that the kids from Nova Scotia, we can play, too.”

More than just play, kids from Nova Scotia can win.

In the 2016 15-and-under and 2018 17-and-under national championships, Tynes managed to lead Team Nova Scotia to gold medals, claiming tournament MVP in each of those events as well.

Those two national championships, along with the accomplishments of a couple of other Nova Scotia boys lately have given Atlantic Canada’s basketball scene more exposure than it ever has.

“Players from the Maritimes have been flying under the radar for years,” said St. Francis Xavier men’s basketball coach Steve Konchalski, a man who has been espousing the virtues of eastern Canadian basketball since his time playing for Acadia University in the 1960s. “We’re finally getting the recognition, I think, with our provincial teams winning gold consistently, beating the best teams in the country.

“I think there’s more attention being paid to players down to this end of the country like with Lindell Wigginton at Iowa State and Nate Darling — though not so much recently because he just transferred this past year to the University of Delaware from Alabama-Birmingham. They were both a part of the world championship, gold-medal winning U-19 team two summers ago in Egypt.”

There can never be too much publicity, however, and though Tynes looks up to Wigginton and Darling, he’s opted to forge his own path moving forward in the hopes others will follow his footsteps.

Unlike Wigginton and Darling, Tynes didn’t feel the need to go to an American prep school or even head to one of the big prep programs in Ontario even though the likes of IMG Academy in Florida and Athlete Institute in Orangeville, Ont., were both very interested in his talents. Instead he opted to stay close to home and attend RNS.

“He would be a kid that everyone suspected was gonna go somewhere else and he stayed home,” said Gay.

Like most kids playing prep basketball, Tynes’ goal is to play Division 1 NCAA ball after his high school career. So in opting to remain in Atlantic Canada he’s purposefully taking a tougher path to that ultimate goal in the hopes it might open new doors for others.

“A lot of kids feel like they have to leave and go to the States and play, and I just want to show that you can stay close to home and play and you can still achieve your dreams,” said Tynes.

And as it turns out, his dreams are within reach.

Part of the 2020 recruiting class, Tynes has already garnered some Division 1 attention, particularly from Ivy League schools, programs that feel like natural fits for him.

“At the end of the day I realize that if I want to play NCAA basketball I can’t just go based off my talents,” Tynes said. “You have to have a good academic skill set, too. And I realized that with basketball, although I do want to play it forever, that will come to an end, too. So I’ll definitely need the education to fall back on.”

For now, however, Tynes’ focus is just on what he can do to become a better high school basketball player and that will start with the Biosteel All-Canadian, a game he was never supposed to be in to begin with and one his coach is sure he’ll eat up.

“Everyone keeps mentioning that he’s not big, his athleticism isn’t as good as the guy down the road and I just say, ‘Well, put him in the gym with them,’” Gay said. “Put him in the gym with them and see who’s on top. He’s gonna get on top, and he’ll do it however he has to do it.”

Underestimated because of where he’s from and his perceived physical limitations, Tynes has learned to embrace it all and has become the player he is today because of it.

“I always play with a chip on my shoulder, regardless. So I’m just going to do what I usually do and show people what I can do.”