Around this time four years ago, I remember sitting down to watch the then-eighth-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs and top-seeded Syracuse Orange suit up for a Tournament game in which the combined rosters boasted a then-NCAA record six Canadians. It was a watershed moment for basketball in this country and the beginning of a wave of Canadian ballers crashing over the collegiate ranks. Kevin Pangos was in attendance, while other future NCAA stars watched from north of the border as Kris Joseph, Andy Rautins and the Orange advanced to the next round. Joseph and Rautins were two of the four Canadians from that game eventually drafted to the NBA. Kelly Olynyk and Robert Sacre were the others.
LIVE: March Madness Scores
Fast-forward a few years and, of the 64 teams taking part in the Madness, 19 of them have at least one Canadian on their roster (red shirts included). More importantly, we no longer have to wait for garbage time in a blowout to see one of our native sons. Canadians can now boast about players who lead their team in scoring and assists and have won conference player of the year honours.
Here I’ll do my best to break down every Canadian in the Big Dance, region by region.
No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks: Andrew Wiggins has had more written about him than any Canadian basketball player in the history of the sport. Just keep in mind that by the time the tourney begins, Wiggins will still be less than a month removed from his 19th birthday. Scary thought.
No. 3 Syracuse Orange: I wrote about Wooden Award-finalist Tyler Ennis back in January, a special player on many different levels.
No. 10 Stanford Cardinal: The Cardinal have two near seven-footers from north of the border. Toronto’s Dwight Powell has been on the edges of NBA draft boards all year because the six-foot-10 senior has such a unique skill set for his size and position. He is second on the team in points (14.2) and rebounds (6.9) per game and leads the squad in assists per game (3.2). Stefan Nastic hails from Thornhill, Ont., and has seen his minutes more than double this season. Unfortunately, Stanford has a tough road ahead of them if they want to make noise.
No. 11 Dayton Flyers: Dyshawn Pierre and the Flyers were ranked in the top-25 earlier in the year and the Whitby-native was a huge part of that success. Pierre touches every part of the score sheet and has played a key role for Team Canada’s under-17 and under-19 teams in years past. One of Canada’s most underrated players in the NCAA, if the Flyers upset Ohio State in the second round, Pierre will be a main reason why.
No. 15 Eastern Kentucky Colonels: Red shirt Jaylen Babb-Harrison’s school profile.
No. 2 Villanova Wildcats: Dylan Ennis—older brother of Tyler—looked to be a key part of Nova’s plans early in the season, but sporadic floor time has resulted in a shooting slump over the last month. However, if anyone can break out of a rough patch at the most opportune time, it’s Dylan.
No. 3 Iowa State Cyclones: By now, everyone knows the name Melvin Ejim. The Big 12 Player of the Year helped lead the Cyclones to the conference tournament title, while sixth man Naz Long brings instant offence and clutch shots all the way from Mississauga, Ont. Head coach Fred Hoiberg looks to have his team poised for a deep run and the Canadians will play key roles.
No. 11 Providence Friars: Montreal’s Junior Lomomba is red shirting after transferring from Cleveland State.
No. 12 Harvard Crimson: Harvard has long been a haven for Canadians looking to combine their love of basketball with the academic prestige of the Ivy League. This year’s Crimson feature three Canadians: Laurent Rivard, Agunwa Okolie and Patrick Steeves. Markham, Ont.’s Chris Egi will also be watching their progress closely—he’s committed to Harvard for next season.
No. 3 Creighton Blue Jays: From our nation’s capital, senior guard Jahenns Manigat logs major minutes for the Blue Jays and his team finds the most success when he plays well. In the Blue Jay’s seven losses this season, Manigat went just 10-for-38 from the field to go along with 13 assists.
No. 6 Baylor Bears: Already in his young life Kenny Chery has gone from his home in Montreal to high school in Washington, then on to Junior College in Missouri before finally settling in Waco, Texas. At his best, the Bears’ starting point guard is a triple-double threat and at his worst, he’s a distributor who is an absolute pest on the defensive end. His backcourt mate Brady Heslip hails from Burlington, Ont., and will see his collegiate career come to an end after this tourney. Read more about Heslip, one of the best shooters in NCAA, here.
No. 7 Oregon Ducks: Head Coach Dana Altman continues to find talent from the Great White North to fill the gaps on his ever-changing team. Scarborough’s Jason Calliste and Toronto’s Richard Amardi followed the path of Canadians Olu Ashaolu and Devoe Joseph, each of whom transferred to Oregon to cap off his collegiate career. If the Ducks need a clutch shot down the stretch, they could do worse than their sixth man, Calliste.
No. 8 Gonzaga Bulldogs: Kevin Pangos is in the third year of his four year plan, which I wrote about here. Next year, he will have red-shirting transfer Kyle Wiltjer to play with and possibly Dustin Triano, son of Jay—a red-shirt walk-on this season.
No. 13 New Mexico State Aggies: Team Canada South boasts seven Canadians if you include associate coach Mike Weir and red shirts Matthew Taylor, Jalyn Pennie and seven-foot-three Tanveer Bhullar. On the floor, Tanveer’s older brother, seven-foot-five Sim, just won his second consecutive W.A.C. tournament MVP award and has scored in double figures in six of his last seven games. Sim is joined by fellow Toronto natives Renaldo Dixon and Daniel Mullings, who is the reigning W.A.C. Player of the Year and a joy to watch attack the rack.
No. 1 Wichita State Shockers: Nick Wiggins obviously doesn’t garner the same hype as his younger brother Andrew, but he does have bragging rights after his Shockers finished the season with a perfect 34-0 record. The Vaughn product plays alongside Burlington-native Chadrack Lufile and both have played in every Wichita State game this season.
No. 2 Michigan Wolverines: ‘To Declare or Not to Declare?” is a question that’s been following Nik Stauskas around for the last few months of his sophomore season. No worries, though, the kid can handle pressure.
No. 5 Saint Louis Billikens: Toronto’s Grandy Glaze is a junior on a team limping into the tournament after winning just once in their last five games.
No. 9 Kansas State Wildcats: Justin Edwards is sitting out after transferring from Maine, but remember that you heard it here first: He is going to be a huge part of K-State’s future.
No. 10 Arizona State Sun Devils: Jordan Bachynski’s patience paid off on his unique road to the NCAA. Bachynski’s college career will be over after ASU’s next loss and that is when the debate will begin on where this season’s NCAA blocks leader will fit on the NBA’s 2014 Draft board.
There you have it: Twenty-four Canadians actively playing in the 2014 NCAA Tournament and nine red shirts along to gain valuable experience and ensure that this invasion of ballers from north of the border isn’t going to end anytime soon.
Special thanks to @hoopstarsCanada for helping to compile this list.