Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - As Steve Nash nears the ultimate end to a
storied career, there will soon be an opening for one of his fellow countrymen
to become the new face of Canadian Basketball.
Coincidentally, there happens to be a fully loaded unit of young Canadian
players emerging at NCAA schools across the country. There are more than 90 on
Division I level squads this season, some whom are starting to garner the
attention of basketball fans everywhere with their consistently solid play.
Nash, who turned 38 this week, also ventured south across the border for his
collegiate career to play in the West Coast Conference for Santa Clara, which
he led to multiple NCAA Tournament victories as an underdog while collecting
multiple WCC player of the year awards.
The Broncos dipped into the Canadian talent pool again to snag Marc Trasolini a
few years ago. While the 6-foot-9 forward, who is now a redshirt senior, was
injured all of last season, the Broncos finished with a dismal 8-22 record and
without a win in conference play.
The Vancouver native has returned this season to average 15.6 points and 8.3
rebounds per game while helping Santa Clara become one of the most improved
teams in the NCAA. The Broncos dropped to 17-8 overall and 5-5 in WCC action on
Thursday with a tough loss to Saint Mary's. Trasolini is not even the most
heralded big man in his own league.
Most collegiate centers fail in comparison to Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk as well.
The 7-footer from Kamloops has been outstanding while leading the No. 6
Bulldogs with 17.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game on their way to a 22-2
record. Olynyk burst onto the scene this season after redshirting a season ago,
while Robert Sacre of North Vancouver started in the middle for the Zags.
Sacre was one of five Canadians chosen in the past two NBA drafts and there are
plenty more on their way.
UNLV's freshman forward Anthony Bennett is already projected to be one of the
top picks in the upcoming draft. The 6-foot-8, 240-pound rookie and Pittsburgh
transfer Khem Birch, who hails from Montreal, Quebec, have both made an
immediate impact for coach Dave Rice's Runnin' Rebels, who are 17-6 entering
their key matchup against New Mexico on Saturday.
While the Lobos do not have any player from Canada within their program, their
intrastate rival New Mexico State Aggies have four players from Canada as part
of their group that features eight total international imports. The four
Canadians on the squad - Daniel Mullings, Tyrone Watson, Sim Bhullar and
Renaldo Dixon - are the No. 1, 3, 4 and 6 scorers for New Mexico State,
respectively. If he continues to develop, Mullings has a very strong chance of
becoming the first Aggie to be drafted into the NBA since Randy Brown in 1991.
Mullins is not the only top-notch guard from Canada shining from the backcourt.
Junior Cadougan of Marquette has provided steady point guard play to keep the
Golden Eagles in contention for the Big East crown.
Nik Stauskas has earned the Big Ten Freshman of the Week three times while
starting for Michigan. The Wolverine faithful have embraced the rookie
swingman's performance so much that a Blue and Maize-colored Canadian flag
appears in the student section every time he makes a play at home games. Many
have thought Stauskas to be just a spot-up shooter, but he has proven to be
more during Michigan's remarkable campaign.
There are a few Canadian players who are hard to classify as anything but
shooters. Brady Heslip from Burlington, Ontario, has been tremendously
important to Baylor's recent success over the past few seasons due to his
ability to stretch the defense. Heslip, who is the nephew of former Toronto
Raptor's coach Jay Triano, made a team-best 100 3-pointers last season,
including a whopping nine against Colorado in last season's NCAA Tournament.
Other current Canadian amateurs to play in last season's Big Dance include
Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Nik Cochran (Davidson), Jason Calliste (Detroit), Myck
Kabongo (Texas) and Kyle Wiltjer, who was able to cut down the nets as a member
of John Calipari's national champion Kentucky Wildcats.
Pangos has a reputation very similar to Heslip as a nightmare for opponents
from beyond the arc. The 6-2 sophomore is the top scoring option in Gonzaga's
backcourt thanks to his alarmingly high 44.6 percent shooting from behind the
Cochran is a master from the free-throw line with a nation-leading 94.8 percent
conversion rate from the stripe. Calliste also showed he has a dangerous
shooting touch on Thursday by dropping in five 3-pointers en route to 22 points
while leading the Titans to their 16th win of the season.
Kabongo has yet to play this season due to a suspension handed down from the
NCAA for a rules infraction, but his upcoming return to action will be
intriguing for not only for Longhorns fans, but also to the entire college
Wiltjer played a supporting role for the Wildcats during their run to
supremacy. But since a handful of his teammates made a jump to the professional
ranks, the 6-10 Canadian-American forward has expanded his role to become UK's
third-leading scorer. He also has a very accurate shot from distance and may
find himself a spot in the NBA with his teammates due to his rare combination
of size and shooting ability.
Other notable imports from Canada include Jordan Bachynski (Arizona State),
Dallin Bachynski (Utah), Dwight Powell (Utah), Olivier Hanlan (Boston College),
Murphy Burnatowski (Colgate), Melvin Ejim (Iowa State) and Justin Edwards
While all of the aforementioned players have added to the excitement
surrounding the growth of Canada's basketball culture, Andrew Wiggins is
expected to take it to the next level. Wiggins is the consensus No. 1 senior
recruit due a combination of size, athleticism and skills that has not
been seen in a high schooler since LeBron James.
Wiggins has not decided on which school he will attend next fall, but he has
narrowed his choices down to Florida State, his parents' alma mater, and
Kentucky. Wherever the highly touted recruit ends up, he will be instantly
thrust into the limelight.
Although Wiggins most likely will be the most talked about player from Canada
once he enters the collegiate ranks, the entire group should receive the credit
for turning Canada into both a hotbed for recruiting and a much more relevant
country in international competitions.
The Sports Network