If you haven’t noticed already, basketball is blowing up in Canada. You’ll hear all about it this week at the NCAA Tournament.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that the only thing Canadian hoops had going for it was Steve Nash and his two MVP trophies. The Grizzlies couldn’t cut it in Vancouver and the Raptors were a joke for a while after Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady fled south of the border.
But what we’re seeing now is the harvest from those days. Steve Nash’s career and a brief window of success for the Toronto Raptors has spawned a new generation of Canadian ballers.
Last year, Anthony Bennett became the first Canadian ever selected first overall in the NBA Draft, which also featured Canuck Kelly Olynyk making the jump to the Association.
This month, you’ll see a brand new crop of Canadians who are playing big roles with high-profile NCAA teams. Right now, some speculate we’ll see at least five Canadians selected in this year’s NBA Draft.
Here’s a list of who you should keep an eye on.
If you don’t know who Andrew Wiggins is, you’re going to have a very tough time filling out your bracket. He’s been a dominant force for the Jayhawks in his freshman season and could become Canada’s second consecutive No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. Wiggins is carrying a heavy load with 7-foot centre Joel Embiid on the shelf, but this is his opportunity to show everybody he can win games basically by himself. If he can get Kansas through the opening couple of rounds and Embiid returns after that, the Jayhawks will be dangerous.
Stauskas is as pure a shooter you’ll ever see for a 6-foot-6, 20-year-old. He averaged 17.5 points per game this season as Michigan’s starting shooting guard and hits almost 45 percent of his trey attempts. He can spread the ball too, with 3.3 assists per game and could be heading to the NBA as a first-round draft pick, so this might be his swansong at Michigan. The Wolverines are listed as 16.5-point favorites Thursday against Wofford.
Ennis is a 19-year-old freshman from Brampton, Ontario, who might be another first-round pick. He’s a little undersized at 6-foot-2, but that hasn’t stopped him from putting up 12.7 points, 3.4 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game. Ennis was named to the freshman All-American Team and is making a name for himself as a clutch scorer at the buzzer. Syracuse is a 13-point favorite against Western Michigan Thursday.
Melvin Ejim – Iowa State (+3000)
Ejim is making his senior season for Iowa State count. He was named the Big 12 Player of the Year after finishing second in the league with 18.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Despite those numbers, there are concerns about how his 6-foot-6 frame would translate in the NBA and he’s already looking at law school after this season. Smart kid.
Jordan Bachynski – Arizona State (+40000)
Bachynski was named the Big-12 Defensive Player of the Year after averaging 4.2 blocked shots per game – best in the entire country. At 7-foot-2, the senior from Calgary is an force inside and his game keeps getting better. He also put up 11.1 points and 8.3 assists while playing more than 30 minutes per night.
Khem Birch – UNLV (N/A)
The Montreal native is second to Bachynski in blocks per game with 3.76 despite standing just 6-foot-9. He may enter the NBA Draft, but also has another year of eligibility at UNLV and could really benefit from another year of NCAA ball. He averages more than 11 points and rebounds per night now, but could take that to another level if he sticks around for another year.
Powell is having a spectacular year in his final season with the Cardinal, averaging 14.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. Powell could have left Stanford for the NBA Draft last season, but looks much more polished after playing another year in the NCAA.