Tuesday September 02, 2014

Canadian basketball on the rise


With the NCAA March Madness tournament less than 10 days away I felt it would be the perfect time to discuss how much Canada has improved when it comes to basketball and to focus on the Canadians who are dominating NCAA college basketball down south.

Twenty years ago no one had any idea that Canada would be able to produce such a high amount of quality basketball players.

Twenty years ago all of the top Canadian athletes would have, most likely, pursued dreams of hoisting the Stanley Cup high over their heads in NHL victory.

Nowadays, however, there are Canadian kids with hoop dreams as opposed to Stanley Cup fantasies.

Kids such as Thornhill, Ont., native and Kansas Jayhawks freshman Andrew Wiggins, regarded by many as the player who will go first overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, and Melvin Ejim of Toronto, a senior with the Iowa State Cyclones, are part of the first wave of Canadian born and raised athletes to “invade” NCAA basketball.

In fact Ejim, a former Big 12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year, just beat out Wiggins to become the Big 12 Conference Player of the Year; an impressive accolade for the 6’6”, 220-lb forward made more impressive by the fact that he isn’t an American from a basketball hotbed, but a Canadian from the land of hockey.

But why, all of a sudden, have Canadian kids decided to stay off the ice and, instead, battle on the basketball court?

It’s because of the ‘Steve Nash Effect’. Canadians, for the last 18 years, have had a great Canadian NBA role model in the form of Steve Nash and it has shown, with the amount of Canadians playing in the NCAA in 2013-14 hitting triple digits (104).

Not only are Canadians being offered full scholarships to NCAA division one universities, they are also starting and starring on those teams.

The aforementioned Wiggins and Ejim are the top players on their respective teams with Wiggins averaging 16.8 points per game and 5.9 rebounds per game in his freshman year at, arguably, the best basketball university in America (Kansas).

Ejim, meanwhile, averaged 18.2 points per game and 8.6 rebounds per game; gaudy numbers for a kid that was overlooked by many top schools just four years ago.

Yet another Canadian, Nik Stauskas, a sophomore guard with the Michigan Wolverines, has emerged as a team leader averaging 17.4 points per game and leading the Wolverines to a 23-7 record and a Big Ten Conference regular season title.

There are others as well. Kevin Pangos (Holland Landing, Ont.) at Gonzaga has been a team leader for the Bulldogs for the past three seasons while being in the top three in scoring each year.

Murphy Burnatowski (Waterloo, Ont.), a senior on the Colgate Raiders, led his team in scoring each of the past two seasons.

Olivier Hanlan (Aylmer, Quebec) has also been a standout for his school, Boston College, leading the team in scoring. His 18.6 points per game are four points higher than the second best scorer on the Eagles despite Boston College being the second worst team in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).

And let’s not overlook the impressive college basketball in Canada.

The CIS boasts some strong teams that travel down south for exhibition games each year, taking on NCAA teams in order to get themselves ready for the CIS season.

But no team in college basketball, Canada or otherwise, has been as impressive over the last 12 years as the Carleton Ravens.

The Ravens have won 10 of the last 12 Canadian National Championships including the most recent version, defeating the Ottawa Gee-Gees 79-67 on Sunday.

Carleton has also turned some heads down south during their exhibition tour going 3-1 this past season; their lone loss coming to the Syracuse Orange 69-65. Syracuse, it is worth noting, went 27-4 and has constantly been ranked in, or near, the top 10 teams in the United States all season long.

The Ravens wins came against the Towson Tigers (23-10) 67-41, the TCU Horned Frogs (9-21) 77-51 and the Wisconsin Badgers (25-6) 95-82. TCU struggled in conference play but were 9-3 against other opponents, Towson finished second in their conference in the regular season and Wisconsin has constantly been ranked in the top 10 all season and are currently the ninth best team in American university basketball.

Not bad for a Canadian team that is relatively unknown.

So the proof is there. Canadians are excelling at basketball, both in their home country as proven by the Carleton Ravens, as well as in the USA.

After all, it was a Canadian, James Naismith (born in Almonte, Ontario), who invented the sport in the first place so it was only a matter of time before Canadians decided to claim their ownership on basketball.



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