March Madness: Canadians poised for more shining moments

As this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament tips off, Canada will be well represented again as the country's wave of young talent continues to put its stamp on U.S. college hoops.

Kentucky's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander among players to watch in this year's tournament

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is one of several key Canadians competing in this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Canada's wave of young basketball talent will be on display again with 21 players participating in this year's NCAA men's tournament.

It's a number that's expected to grow in coming years as top recruit R.J. Barrett, who will attend Duke University next season, and other members of Canada's U19 world championship team begin to join the collegiate ranks.

But Canadians aren't just making the team. Some are playing key roles in determining how far their teams will go on the road to the Final Four.

Here are four Canadians to watch as the tournament gets rolling:

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

​The Hamilton native has shined since becoming the Kentucky Wildcats' primary ball handler. An injury to starting point guard Quade Green elevated Gilgeous-Alexander from sixth man to the starting lineup and he hasn't looked back.

The 19-year-old freshman is averaging just under 14 points along with five assists and 1.6 steals per game. Gilgeous-Alexander is an explosive scorer who has only gotten better as the season progressed.

In the Southeastern Conference tournament, the six-foot-six guard averaged 21 points, 6.7 assists and five rebounds per game en route to being named tournament MVP.

Gilgeous-Alexander has been just as disruptive on the defensive end, taking full advantage of his seven-foot wingspan.

Head coach John Calipari's best players have usually opted for the "one-and-done" route and the Canadian may add his name to that list when it comes time to declare for this year's NBA draft.

Gilgeous-Alexander and the Wildcats, seeded No. 5 in the South region, begin their tournament on Thursday evening (7:10 p.m. ET) against No. 12 Davidson.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker

Basketball runs deep in the Alexander family. The Virginia Tech guard is a cousin of Gilgeous-Alexander's and was the top Canadian recruit (21st) on ESPN's top 100 list heading into the college season.

Alexander-Walker is one of the latest names to come out of the BioSteel All Canadian game — an annual showcase featuring 24 of the best high school basketball players born in Canada or playing at a Canadian prep school. Graduates of the game include Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray and Milwaukee Bucks centre Thon Maker.

Toronto's Alexander-Walker has started all 32 games in his first year with the Hokies, averaging 10.5 points per contest on 39.3 per cent shooting from downtown. He is one of 21 rookies in Division I college basketball history to make at least 50 three-pointers while also shooting above 50 per cent from inside the arc.

One of his finer performances of the season came against fifth-ranked Duke when Alexander-Walker had a team-high 17 points in Virginia Tech's upset win. 

Alexander-Walker and the Hokies, seeded No. 8 in the East region, square off against No. 9 Alabama on Thursday evening (9:20 p.m. ET)

Oshae Brissett

The Syracuse University forward is another Greater Toronto Area product who played alongside Alexander-Walker in the BioSteel All Canadian game.

Brissett is the reigning Canadian high school player of the year and hasn't disappointed in his first collegiate season. In 33 starts, the 19-year-old is third in team scoring (14.7 points per game) and leads the Orange in rebounding average (8.8 — fifth in the Atlantic Coast Conference). 

In just a matter of months, Brissett has already entered the school's record books. Last December against the Georgetown Hoyas, he became the only other freshman — besides 10-time NBA all-star Carmelo Anthony — in head coach Jim Boeheim's 42-year coaching career to record at least 25 points and 14 rebounds in one game. Earlier this month, Brissett was named to the conference's all-freshman team.

Brissett and his Syracuse teammates will have to play their way in to the main tournament as they face Arizona State on Wednesday night (9:10 p.m. ET) for a spot in the 64-team field. The winner gets the No. 11 seed in the Midwest region and will face No. 6 TCU.

Kassius Robertson 

The graduate transfer from Canisus College has been a huge addition for the Missouri Tigers. Robertson is averaging a team-high 16.2 points per contest and is shooting 42.5 per cent from beyond the arc.

The Toronto native also leads the team in minutes and is the unquestioned leader of the Tigers.

His offensive contributions helped the team remain tournament-bound despite losing top recruit and potential NBA lottery pick Michael Porter Jr. just a game into the season.

Robertson's efforts were recognized when he was chosen to the eight-player all-Southeastern Conference coaches' first team.

Robertson and the Tigers, seeded No. 8 in the West region, tip off against No. 9 Florida State on Friday evening (9:50 p.m. ET).


Chicco Nacion returns to his birthplace of Toronto after growing up in Niagara Falls. He graduated from the Master of Media in Journalism and Communication program at the University of Western Ontario. Follow him on Twitter @chicco_n


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