Oshae Brissett is finally home.
After signing a two-way contract in July, Brissett will play for both the Toronto Raptors and the Raptors 905, a Mississauga-based team in the G League. There’s history in Mississauga for Brissett. He was raised there. The city team for which he played in middle school, the Mississauga Monarchs, even play in the same Paramount Fine Foods center as do the Raptors 905. In returning now to Mississauga, Brissett’s life has come full circle. Brissett recognizes the significance of his roots, and for him, Mississauga will always be home.
“A lot of people would say otherwise, but me, when I retire and all that, I would love to come back here, get a house, a family. I love Mississauga,” said Brissett. “It’s where I want to be.”
A Torontonian who has begun his career with the Raptors, he’ll join an exclusive list of NBA players representing their home squads. He’s only the fifth ever to do it in Toronto.
Jamaal Magloire, born in Toronto, finished his career with the Raptors and now coaches in Toronto. Cory Joseph played for the Raptors and was born in Windsor, and two other Windsorites, Hank Biasatti and Gino Sovran, played for the Toronto Huskies in 1946. Brissett may be the fifth Raptor from the 6ix, but he’ll certainly be the first Raptor and 905er raised in the 905.
Born in Etobicoke in the Jane and Finch area, Brissett moved to Mississauga when he was four. It was in middle school, at Hazel McCallion Senior Public School, where he began to commit himself to playing basketball. Brissett’s athletic gifts were immediately clear to his teachers.
“He was so natural in his movements, in his athletic prowess,” said Dave Riddell, Brissett’s basketball coach and English and Math teacher. “Anything he did, he just seemed to be skilled at it. He was just gifted. You laugh about those stories about the gods coming down and touching some kids to be athletically good in a lot of things. He was one of them.”
Brissett’s older brother, Déjon, preceded him at Hazel, and Déjon bonded with both Riddell and Vic Catalano, Hazel’s physical education teacher. It was because of Déjon, whom Brissett calls the golden child of the family, that Oshae had ready-made relationships with teachers before even stepping foot in their classrooms.
Both Riddell and Catalano remember Brissett as a thoughtful but outgoing child. He was happy and carefree, with a demeanor appealing to those around him.
“He always had a contagious smile,” said Catalano. “When he smiled, he always seemed to be having a good time in class, it didn’t matter what we were doing.”
“He was a popular guy at school, a very popular guy, and a nice guy,” remembered Riddell. “He was humble. He didn’t have all those airs about him as a typical middle school student had.”
For his part, Brissett remembers his time at Hazel in much the same way. He remembers the supportive atmosphere, and he remembers Catalano and Riddell most of all. “Hazel was fun. I remember all my teachers, honestly. Mr. Riddell, Mr. Catalano, those are the two guys I [still] talk to most of the time. I just want to say, Mr. Riddell, he always really believed in me. Always told me I would make it to the NBA.”
“That’s a family that I’ll never forget.”
Hazel McCallion was where Brissett lost parts of three teeth. Brissett was being defended by a smaller opponent who made up for the size deficit with too much vigor.
“This guy took him down, and fell on top of him, and broke his front tooth,” remembered Riddell. “Oshae got up, and he wasn’t mad. If it would have been me on that basketball court, I’d have been furious. But Oshae came out on a timeout, and says, ‘is it possible you could look for my tooth? My mom’s going to kill me.’ I found the chip and put it an envelope, and he took it back with him to his mom.”
Brissett confirmed that he was worried about his mom’s reaction: “She was very, very upset. She was mad only because no one called her.”
Hazel McCallion was where Brissett effortlessly ended Riddell’s basketball career.
“There was one day where I got out on the floor, and I think I was 52 at the time,” said Riddell. “But I thought, Oshae, he’s grade eight, I’m still good enough to handle a grade eight kid. I don’t think he missed a shot… He was unbelievable that day. The coaching staff, we still talk about it. It was unbelievable. It was inside, outside. I wouldn’t say he made me look foolish, because my defense was pretty good, but he just made everything. It’s one of the fondest and yet hardest memories because I knew that I should never get on the basketball court again. I was done. He put me into retirement.”
“No, Mr. Riddell’s old,” laughed Brissett, emphasizing that he really didn’t have to try. “It wasn’t that hard. He tried to put on a little show, but that’s the type of relationship we had. We laughed, we joked. He’s someone that I always want to be around, always want to talk to.”
Hazel McCallion was one of the last places Brissett played basketball in Canada. After grade eight, Brissett spent most of his time south of the border. He spent one year at Gonzaga high school in Mississauga, before moving on to Findlay Prep, a high school in Nevada famous for its basketball program. Brissett’s teammates in 2014-15 included Allonzo Trier, Justin Jackson, and PJ Washington, all of whom are now in the NBA with Brissett. In 2015, Brissett led his team in rebounding during the National semi-finals, despite losing to Montverde Academy, a team that featured former number one overall pick, Ben Simmons. After Findlay, Brissett attended university at Syracuse, the same school as 905 teammate, Tyler Ennis. For Brissett as for his teammates, Ennis and returning guard Duane Notice, leaving home for the United States to chase their dream is almost a necessity for elite Canadian basketball talent.
What’s unique about Brissett is that he’s returned to Canada.
Brissett has not forgotten his Hazel McCallion family. He invited Riddell to Syracuse to watch a game. He’s made continued visits to his old school since his graduation. Catalano invited him back after Brissett was accepted into Syracuse, and Brissett chatted with the students in Catalano’s class before showing off a few dunks. Catalano emphasized how rare it is for a young man like Brissett to appreciate his roots.
“For him to come back and share his success with us is definitely a nice memory, has a nice touch to who he is as a person,” said Catalano. “He values it enough to come back and share his individual glory.”
“The doors here at HMC are wide open for him to come back and do anything he wants to do, as far as teach a class, help out with a team, or just come back and visit, for that matter,” continued Catalano. “He’s part of the HMC family. It’s a great inspiration for all these kids that go to this school, to see a player like that, and know that a player came from this area and school and could one day be an NBA star.”
Brissett knows the impact that superstars can have on children. When he was young, around six or seven years old, a few Team Canada members visited him while he was in the hospital.
“They gave me a hat and said, ‘one day, you’re going to be on the team.’ I know the type of impact it has because I was one of those [kids],” Brissett remembered.
Did Brissett keep the hat?
“I don’t think so, but I have a lot of other Team Canada gear,” Brissett laughed, proud to now play for Team Canada and to have proved his visitors right.
In fact, Brissett returned to Hazel a few months ago to donate some of his Team Canada gear for an auction to raise money for the Terry Fox run. Returning to Mississauga has allowed Brissett to close so many of those circles in his life. Brissett knows he’s a product of his environment, and he pays the kindness and support forward onto the next generation.
That’s the way of the Toronto Raptors, too. This year, Pascal Siakam has exploded into a superstar. He’s both an inspiration for Brissett and a mentor.
“I see myself being a grinder forever,” said Brissett. “I don’t ever want to be complacent with where I’m at. I always want to get better. I was texting Ryan [Schmidt] the other day, one of the coaches, and we were both watching Pascal go crazy. It’s amazing seeing where he came from, how he started, and where he’s at now. I watched him everyday when I was with the Raptors, and he never stopped working, before practice, after, during, he was encouraging, teaching. That’s where I want to get to.”
Student. Worker. Teacher. They’re all intertwined for Brissett. Which is probably why when he eventually retires, he wants first to return to Syracuse to finish his degree, potentially in CRS, or public speaking. Through that, there’s a perfect job that encapsulates so much of what makes Brissett who he is.
“I started to get into public speaking [at Syracuse],” said Brissett. “I’ll be in front of cameras, press conferences, stuff like that. That’s what I wanted to do. I want to be like an analyst on TV like Shaq and Charles Barkley, those guys. I like how they have fun but also keep it serious.”
There’s a long road ahead of Brissett, and he hasn’t yet appeared in an NBA or G League regular season game. That will come. He’s only 21 years old. But with the years behind Brissett, bouncing from Mississauga to the United States, and now back home at last, he finally has his opportunity. And there’s no better place for him to be.