Whoever happens to be the next coach for the Canadian national basketball team will soon be inheriting a bumper crop of young talent. There have always been a decent number of Canadians playing in the NCAA, but the quality of these players is definitely on the rise.
Though not all of the nation’s finest ballers are represented in this year’s version of March Madness, there is a very strong contingent showcased in the premier event of the NCAA basketball season. Here are 10 players you should keep an eye on when you’re watching the games.
We start off with senior forward Kris Joseph of the Syracuse Orange. The Montreal native is the leading scorer for the second-ranked team in the nation, averaging 13.8 points while chipping in with a respectable 4.9 rebounds per game. Joseph is a versatile forward who can play tough down low or on the perimeter as a wing player. With that said, his defence could be considered his greatest strength, so it is no wonder scouts view Joseph as a quality role player in the NBA.
A player who has flown under the radar as a potential NBA prospect is Kyle Wiltjer who plays for the top team in the nation, the Kentucky Wildcats. The freshman forward is playing behind a spectacular front court in Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist but has put up respectable numbers with 5.4 points and 2.0 rebounds while playing in all 33 games for the ‘Cats so far. Also noteworthy is the fact that his father Greg was a professional basketball player in Europe and played for Canada in the 1984 Olympics.
Heslip is the starting shooting guard for the 12th-ranked Baylor Bears, and boy can he shoot. The Burlington, ON native is shooting 44 per cent from three-point land and is among the nation’s best from the charity stripe at 93 per cent. Baylor will need his hot shooting to continue in order to open space their impressive frontcourt if they are to make a deep run in the tournament.
The pride of Mississauga, ON single-handedly put the Bonnies in the NCAA tournament with a magnificent performance of 26 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocks in the Atlantic 10 championship game against Xavier. Nicholson has been one of the most dominant big men in the nation this year with season averages of 18.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. Saying Nicholson is the most important player for St. Bonaventure would be a massive understatement and clearly the hopes of this small upstate New York university rest upon the broad shoulders of the Canadian. Also playing for St. Bonaventure is guard Matthew Wright of Toronto and Chris Johnson of North Preston, NS.
Coming from the Jane-Finch corridor in Toronto, Cadougan has taken his tremendous talents to Marquette. While the junior point guard may not be a big-time scorer himself, averaging a modest 6.5 points, he is more than happy to get his teammates involved as evidenced by the 5.5 assists per game he has managed this season.
The big seven-footer for Gonzaga is not only an intimidating presence for the Bulldogs but is also the emotional leader and team captain. Sacre has failed to improve upon his numbers from last season but has put up a respectable 11.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game as a senior and given his size, will continue to be an option for the Canadian national team. Like Wiltjer, Sacre is also from BC and his father, Greg LaFleur, is a former professional athlete. However, LaFleur was not a basketball player but rather a tight end in the NFL.
If Sacre is the emotional leader, the team is certainly led on the court by its’ freshman point guard Kevin Pangos. As a first-year player on a veteran team, Pangos leads the Bulldogs in both scoring and assists. The Newmarket, ON native can also shoot the lights out from distance, totaling 75 three-pointers this season at a 41 per cent clip.
One of the most highly-touted freshmen entering this season, many predicted Kabongo to be a one-and-done player who would enter the NBA draft after a single season at Texas. Though his numbers are decent at 9.8 points and 5.3 assists per game, Kabongo has been somewhat prone to making turnovers and his shooting numbers are not sparkling either. There is still time for this talented kid from Toronto to improve his NBA stock, but wouldn’t it have been fun to watch him alongside fellow Canadians Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson running the show in Austin?
Laroche is another of the many players in the NCAA coming from the Montreal area and is one of three seniors who lead the Aggies to the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) championship. However, he is only part of the story here as there are currently three other Canadian players on the Aggies’ roster including Toronto-natives Daniel Mullings and Tyrone Watson as well as forward Renaldo Dixon of Hamilton. Christian Kabongo, Myck’s cousin, left the New Mexico State basketball team after being suspended for violating team rules.
Following in Jeremy Lin’s footsteps, Rivard has been an important player for the Crimson during his two years so far. He is a big guard who is a good shooter who does a little bit of everything. Harvard is a pretty good defensive squad and isn’t too flashy on offence with Rivard being the epitome of those attributes.
Other Canadians in the tournament:
Jason Calliste, Detroit Titans
Nik Cochran, Davidson
Stefan Cvrkalj, Lehigh Mountain Hawks
Randy Dezouvre, Iona
Melvin Ejim, Iowa State Cyclones
Grandy Graze, Saint Louis
Alex Johnson, North Carolina State
Troy Joseph, LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds
Jahenns Manigat, Creighton Blue Jays
Arnold Mayorga, LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds
Emerson Murray, California Golden Bears
Robinson Odoch-Opong, LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds
Taevaunn Prince, South Dakota St. Jackrabbits