Olivier Rioux, the tallest teenager in the world, pursues his hoop dream at the Canada Games

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Olivier Rioux landed with a big exclamation mark on Michael Meeks’ radar when the Canada Basketball coach opened a photo in his inbox seven years ago.

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Rioux was attending a kids’ basketball camp in Montreal and posed for a photo alongside the Detroit Pistons and Canadian team center Joel Anthony, who is 6-foot-9.

“Ron Yeung (Director of National Development for Canada Basketball) sent me this photo of Olivier and Joel, and Olivier is about the same height, more or less. Ron says, “This kid is nine years old,” Meeks said.

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“I was immediately on the phone, finding out who he was and what was going on and what we can do to help.”

In the years that followed, Rioux became a complete 7-foot-6 player. He can dunk an NBA hoop while barely leaving his feet.

Guinness World Records recognized him as the world’s tallest teenager when he was 15 years old and 7ft 5in. If he played in the NBA now, he would be tied with Cleveland’s Tacko Fall as the tallest player in the league.

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But Rioux is playing for Quebec at the Canada Summer Games this week in Ontario’s Niagara region with kids at least his age, albeit nowhere near his height.

Quebec beat Saskatchewan 115-78 in a consolation game on Friday after losing a 72-70 decision to Alberta in the quarterfinals on Thursday night.

Meeks, who is at the Games to keep an eye on Canada’s young players, said he has seen improvement in Rioux even in recent weeks, but warns that, like any super-tall player, he has this is a long term work in progress.

“People see his size 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 fun is he having competing and playing?

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“It’s important because we’re on uncharted territory with Olivier, there’s never been someone so tall at that age. So we’re kind of cautiously optimistic that he’s definitely heading in the right direction.

Rioux, originally from Anjou, a borough east of Montreal, will start his 10th year in the fall in Bradenton, Florida. He moved there to attend IMG Academy – a school which counts among his former tennis superstar sisters Serena and Venus Williams – a year ago. .

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

“Back in Montreal, I used to go to school every day for at least eight hours. Now I go to school for three hours and train in the afternoon, it’s different,” he added with a deep-voiced laugh.

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He has fun at the Games, he said, and has competed in some boxing competitions.

Rioux was 5 feet 2 inches tall in kindergarten. His father Jean-François is 6 feet 8 inches, his mother Anne is 6 feet 2 inches.

He became an unsuspecting internet star at the age of 12, while taking part in a tournament in Spain. He stood out like a pole among the other players on the pitch. This caught the attention of Golden State star Steph Curry, who tweeted, “So many questions…”

Jamal Murray posed for a photo alongside her that summer. He was already dominating the star guard for the Denver Nuggets in Kitchener, Ont.

Joey Mckitterick, who has coached Rioux in the AAU’s Brookwood Elite program in Montreal since he was 12, echoed Meeks in that he has seen a huge improvement in Rioux this year, especially that his growth has slowed and his coordination is catching up.

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But perhaps most important is that Rioux enjoys the game, which is essential because the huge expectations come from being super high.

“I think this year you could see he enjoyed everything, basketball, traveling, everything like that. He definitely falls in love with it,” Mckitterick said.

Mckitterick said part of his responsibility coaching Rioux was to be a buffer between the teenager and curious onlookers.

“When we travel, we may be sitting in a hotel lobby and random strangers come up to him and ask for a picture. It’s even hard to walk through the airport to get a flight on time because people are constantly stopping it: “Can I take your picture? Can you hold my baby?’ Can you do this, can you do that?

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“When I met our players at the end of the year. I said, ‘I can’t imagine being you. But the best I can do is just guide you, help you, and be there for you for whatever you need, because I can’t put myself in your shoes. Nobody could.

This uniqueness makes it difficult to determine where basketball might take him.

“When you see Olivier, every three to six months he does things faster, faster, stronger, more balanced, he has more agility, his game improves, his understanding of how to influence the game is getting better,” Meeks said. “That’s important because usually taller players are a bit slower (to develop) and he’s moving at the right pace in terms of being a super tall player.

“Usually guys who stopped growing at around 6-3, 6-4, you can start to see exactly what they’re going to be by the time they turn 16. But these great, great players, it’s 24, 25 years before everything starts to fall into place.

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Rioux, who enjoys studying the games of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic, who are both 6-11, is well proportioned for his height and hasn’t had any major physical issues such as knee pain that can accompany rapid growth.

Among other NBA giants, Gheorghe Muresan is listed as the tallest of all time at 7ft 7in. Yao Ming and Shawn Bradley were 7-6. Canadian Sim Bhullar was 7-5, but his weight — he was listed at 360 pounds — was a limiting factor.

Canada has at least some experience with super tall players.

Zach Edey, a 20-year-old Torontonian, is 7-foot-4. Edey made his debut for Canada’s senior men’s team in a World Cup qualifier in May. The IMG Academy product heads into his junior season for the Purdue Boilermakers, who also showed early interest in Rioux.

“There are a lot of Division 1 schools that already know him very well,” Mckitterick said. “The schools that really focus on him are the ones that appreciate size and want to use it. Because basketball has kind of evolved into smaller players (multi-position players), but there are still a lot of programs that still value that size.

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