Marial Shayok played for Canada Basketball when he was 15. He says it was the first team he realized the types of places the game of basketball could take him. Since then, it certainly has taken him places. Last June he became the first Ottawa-born player ever to be taken in the NBA Draft.
The 24-year-old Shayok was selected in the second round of the 2019 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. He is currently splitting time between the 76ers and their development team (the Delaware Blue Coats of the G League), while still being in touch with his Ottawa basketball roots. That includes the neighborhood ball players he grew up watching and playing against in south side Ottawa.
“I definitely fell in love with basketball in Ottawa. The place I grew up in was a basketball community and pretty much everyone I surrounded myself with played basketball. My siblings and my Dad played basketball. My friends I grew up with all into high school [played basketball]. It was a big basketball-driven type of environment,” said Shayok.
“Guys from my neighborhood in the south side of Ottawa where I really just watched their game and really they have seen me grow into the basketball player I am today. I’m still pretty close to everybody back home and it’s just great to have them on my side.”
He also comes from a family that has been intertwined with the sport of basketball. Marial’s father (Makur Shayok), sister (Yar Shayok), and brother (Shayok Shayok) all played college hoops before him. Shayok Shayok is now his younger brother’s manager, which has been a huge asset for Marial who says between the trust he has in him and his brother’s understanding of the game, he feels like he can talk to him about anything.
He has come along away from south side Ottawa. Shayok played fours years of Division 1 college basketball. He originally committed to the University of Virginia, but transferred after three years to Iowa State University. There, Shayok blossomed into a star. He shot nearly 40% from three-point range and led the Cyclones to the Big 12 Conference Championship title with an upset victory over the mighty Kansas Jayhawks.
Based on his incredible year with Iowa State and the promise he showed for continued development, Philadelphia took a shot on the talented shooting guard. Draft day was a milestone moment for Shayok as well as the city of Ottawa. The nation’s capital finally had one of its own join the NBA ranks.
“It means a lot. Obviously, being someone the younger generation can look to. Let them know it’s definitely possible to do so. Obviously I’m just getting started so I am going to continue to break boundaries and really be that face of the basketball community,” said Shayok.
“It was exciting just knowing my hard work had paid off and obviously what it meant to my family and my loved ones. It was definitely exciting but once it happened I kind of really embraced it and then moved on to the next to see how I could get better and make things happen for myself”
Making things happen for himself this season could mean playing a supporting role on a team that is considered by many to be NBA Championship contenders.
The 76ers are built on height, power, and rebounding ability. They drafted Shayok to (hopefully) add much-needed shooting on the outside to balance the inside strength of their talented big men. Shayok has already delivered some promising results early on. With the Delaware Blue Coats, Shayok totaled 76 points over his first two games as a professional ball player and was named the G League player of the week.
He spent training camp and the preseason with the 76ers and was called up to join the team in November on the strength of his impressive G League start. Philadelphia is loaded with stars like Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Al Horford who can offer many lessons on and off the court for a rookie like Shayok.
“Man it’s great. The amount of great [veteran players] I have, I am able to learn from them every single day whenever I am up there [in Philadelphia]. They kind of put me under their wing and instill confidence in me everyday. When I’m doing well they are happy for me and they let me know,” said Shayok.
Philadelphia has lofty aspirations this year and depending on how the 2019-20 season plays out, they may call on Shayok to step in for them in meaningful games this spring. Though that is far from his focus right now. Shayok is concentrated on improving his offensive efficiency, which he says has been a challenge especially as he is learning the professional game and facing new defensive sets and strategy on a game-to-game basis.
On draft day 2019, Shayok was one of six Canadian-born players selected, the most in Canadian history and the most by a non-U.S. country ever in a single NBA draft.
Canadian basketball is more prominent now that it has ever been. With Canadian-born players on rosters across the NBA, Canada finally seems to have the talent to qualify for its first Olympics Games since 2000, when a young Steve Nash led the way. If healthy and invited to join the roster, Shayok says he wants to be part of helping Canada qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
“Definitely would want to play for Team Canada if it all works out for the situation I am in. To play for my country would be a dream come true.” Said Shayok.
From Ottawa to Iowa to Philadelphia, everything has happened so quickly the last couple years that Shayok says it has been hard for him to take a moment to appreciate it. The city he grew up in certainly can though.
There were no footsteps for Shayok to follow in when he was finding his way to where he is now. There was no one from Ottawa who had NBA dreams and made them come true. He can be a shining example that he himself didn’t have growing up. In many ways, he already is.
First, Shayok learned himself where the game of basketball could take him. Now he is going to show a generation of kids growing up across Ottawa that same lesson.