Chris Boucher Continues to show It’s never too late
When you think of the quote en quote “conventional” path to the NBA, it usually involves starting to play basketball at a young age, around seven to nine years old, working on your game every day as a youth, participating in the AAU circuit or similar youth basketball leagues, playing high school basketball, and finally getting recruited to a division-one NCAA school to play college basketball.
By the time most players make it into the league, they’re aged anywhere from 18 to 22 years old on average.
This is the route that many of today’s NBA players took to make it in the league, but Chris Boucher’s rise to NBA prominence was anything but conventional.
The Road Less Traveled
Born in Saint Lucia, Boucher and his family moved to Montréal when he was 16 years old. Living in impoverished conditions, Boucher had been out of school for a year and worked in a kitchen to help support his family.
In an interview with the NBA G League, Boucher says he found it difficult to focus on school while working a nine-to-five job. When he found basketball, Boucher found something he could focus on.
“For me, discovering basketball was a little different just because I hadn’t played when I was young. I started playing when I was 18, 19. I never really was going to the gym like ‘oh, I’m tying to work out so I can go to the NBA one day,'” said Boucher.
There have been late-bloomers that have made the NBA in the past like Tim Duncan who took up the sport at 14, but usually by the time an NBA hopeful reaches the age Boucher started playing basketball, they are already years ahead developmentally and are at the stage of playing at the collegiate levels.
After getting noticed during a local pickup game, Boucher was invited to the Alma Academy basketball program which aimed to give young basketball players the hope and belief that they could overcome their hardships.
Loic Rwigema is a college basketball scout. In an interview with the NBA G-League, recalled the game where Boucher was noticed.
“I saw this game and this team was getting blown out, but then this one lanky guy who would score all their points. Even though they’re losing by 50, he still got 40 points, so I called my brother, I said ‘I think I found a gem,'” said Rwigema.
Boucher’s time at Alma Academy eventually led to his collegiate career, first at the junior college level at New Mexico JC and Northwest College, and finally reaching division-one basketball at the University of Oregon. By the time Boucher finished his collegiate career (which he dominated in), at 25 years old he declared for the NBA draft. A torn-ACL however kept him from working out for teams prior to the draft, and he ended up going undrafted.
After stints with the Golden State Warriors and their G-League affiliate, the Santa Cruz Warriors, Boucher signed a two-way contract with the Toronto Raptors in 2018.
G-League Dominance & Getting a Chance at the NBA Level
Once Boucher landed in Toronto, he truly had the chance showcase his talent on the NBA-level. It started in the G-League with the Raptors 905. Boucher put up insane averages of 27.2 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 4.1 blocks, while shooting 51% from the field in the 2018-19 G-League season. He capped of his breakout G-League campaign by taking home both the G-League MVP and defensive player of the year awards.
Boucher’s contract was converted to a regular contract on February 10th, 2019, and he and the Raptors went on to win the NBA Championship that year. While Boucher didn’t get too much of a chance to play for the main team in 2018-19, he would get more chances on the NBA floor in the following years to come.
Boucher’s first real shot at NBA-minutes was against the Los Angeles Lakers in an early-season matchup in 2019. With Serge Ibaka being sidelined due to an ankle injury, Boucher poured in 15 points, two rebounds, and three blocks in 24 minutes of action. He punctuated his breakout night with a lob-finish delivered by Fred VanVleet and a pair of blocks coming against the Lakers’ star duo.
From this game onward, Boucher was no longer a hidden gem among Raptor media and fans. His role continued to be situational as Ibaka and Marc Gasol were in and out of lineup for a majority of 2019-20, but Boucher continued to have some eye-popping performances as the year went on.
Once the dust settled on the 2019-20 campaign, both Gasol and Ibaka flocked to LA teams, and the Raptors looked to Boucher to fill in the gaps left behind at the centre position.
A Life-Changing Contract and a Early-Season Breakout
In the 2020 offseason the Raptors signed Boucher to a two-year, $13.5 Million-Dollar contract extension. Following the signing of the deal, Boucher spoke to Raptor media members about the extension.
“I think through the years I’ve realized who I was and the people that I need to be around…I think money won’t change that, it’s definitely gonna help me with my family…I want my Mom to work no more, that’s definitely one thing I’m trying to you know, I’m definitely gonna take care of.”
With the Raptors especially thin at the centre position following the departures of Gasol and Ibaka, Boucher has exceeded all expectations thus far in 2020-21.
Boucher so far has netted career-highs in points and blocks, and on the season he’s averaging 14.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks on an efficient 45.3% from three point land. He’s currently averaging 23.7 minutes off the bench, and looks to continue to be a big part of the Raptors rotation moving forward.
Chris Boucher is a classic case study of how perseverance and hard work can eventually pay off. Going from picking up a basketball in his late teens, to junior college standout, to division one standout, to eventual NBA-rotation staple, Boucher is living proof, that it’s never too late.