Canadians could author shining moments in March Madness
Country sending 25 men to NCAA tournament, some destined for NBA
Twenty-five Canadian men are set to compete in March Madness.
Following a 2020 draft in which zero Canadians were selected, the burgeoning basketball country seems ready to reinforce its NBA ranks quickly in the coming years.
"I think we're in a great place. I think it looks like there's going to be draft talent for years to come," Canadian basketball scout Wes Brown said. "I don't think we know yet who that next superstar is, but I think there's a lot of guys that project to be NBA talent."
While Canada's men can't claim the supremacy of the women, who place one player on each of the four top seeds, there is no Canadian better positioned to win the national championship than Gonzaga's Andrew Nembhard.
Nembhard, the 21-year-old from Aurora, Ont., is a junior in his first season with the Bulldogs after transferring following two mediocre seasons at Florida.
In a reduced role backing up top prospect Jalen Suggs, Nembhard's numbers have barely suffered, while his efficiency only improved. And despite coming off the bench, Nembhard often finds himself in coach Mark Few's closing lineups.
Gonzaga enters the tournament undefeated, the favourite to cut down the nets in April.
"Of all of the guys you would think of, him and [Oregon's] Eugene Omoruyi are the easiest guys to plug and play because they already fit an NBA role and they're mature and they have experience and they've won and they're ready to go," Brown said.
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It's Omoruyi who Brown said might have been the best Canadian in college this season.
The Rexdale, Ont., native played with NBAers Jamal Murray and Thon Maker at the famed Orangeville Prep before three seasons at Rutgers and an ultimate transfer to Oregon.
As a redshirt senior, Omoruyi's age could work against him in the NBA draft. But his production is undeniable: 16.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.5 steals per game as a Swiss Army knife for the Ducks.
"He's got a high IQ. I think he's totally about the team. If you look at his stats, he doesn't really have many huge scoring games. He's pretty consistent because he's not that guy that likes to take shots outside the offence and forces stuff. But he is aggressive. I think he's got controlled aggression," Brown said.
Even as a seventh seed, Oregon looks to have the goods to make a run in Indiana.
Omoruyi teams with Montreal-born guard Chris Duarte, another NBA prospect who averaged over 16 points per game for the Ducks this season.
Omoruyi leads the break and <a href="https://twitter.com/C_Duarte5?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@C_Duarte5</a> slams it home!<br><br>6-0 run for the Ducks cuts OSU's lead to 18-15.<br><br>📺 <a href="https://t.co/OF4A6Vfmae">https://t.co/OF4A6Vfmae</a><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/GoDucks?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#GoDucks</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/AlwaysUs?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#AlwaysUs</a> <a href="https://t.co/4u9k56NmjW">pic.twitter.com/4u9k56NmjW</a>—@OregonMBB
Duarte was raised in the Dominican Republic before moving to New York to play high school basketball. He played junior college for two years before landing in Oregon last season.
Known for his shot, Duarte was also an honourable mention on his conference's all-defensive team.
"He can score from all three levels, he could create his own shot pretty well, and he's got a pretty smooth stroke," Brown said.
Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe is another Orangeville graduate, who plays for No. 4 Oklahoma State alongside potential No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham.
The Vaughan, Ont., native played over 20 minutes per game for the Cowboys where he impressed in his role next to a superstar.
"He's really a great finisher and he's had some huge games for them, and I expect he'll have another huge game for them," Brown said.
Some other Canadians to watch out for in the dance include Purdue's Zach Edey (hard to miss at seven-foot-four with soft hands), Georgetown's Jahvon Blair (productive college guard, led the Hoyas to an upset Big East tournament title), Alabama's Josh Primo (elite shooter but questionable to play due to a knee injury) and Syracuse's Quincy Guerrier (disruptive defender thriving in the Orange's zone scheme).
Good luck stopping a dunk from <a href="https://twitter.com/zach_edey?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@zach_edey</a> 😤<br><br>He throws it DOWN for <a href="https://twitter.com/BoilerBall?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@BoilerBall</a> <a href="https://t.co/i0NVEcSWIP">pic.twitter.com/i0NVEcSWIP</a>—@CBBonFOX
Meanwhile, two players who Brown projects to be drafted are guards Bennedict Mathurin of Arizona and Marcus Carr of Minnesota — neither of whom reached the 2021 tournament.
Mathurin, an 18-year-old freshman from Montreal, averaged nearly 11 points and five rebounds per game for the Wildcats. Despite the team's 17-9 record, Arizona's self-imposed one-year post-season ban means Mathurin will miss his first shot at the national tournament.
"He's got NBA star potential. … I feel pretty good saying he's going to be a first-round pick, a guy that you could just plug and play immediately," Brown said.
Carr possessed the flashier numbers — 19.4 points and 4.9 assists per game — but was forced to carry a big load on a team than lost more than it won at 14-15.
The 21-year-old Torontonian's scoring prowess could still be enough to see him picked in the second round.
"He's proven [at Minnesota], you got a level of skill, you can make it happen. With the defence all focused on him, [he can] get a 40-point game. I don't think there's anything left for him to prove in college," Brown said.
Other Canadians in the tournament
- Keon Ambrose-Hylton, forward, Alabama
- Malcolm Bailey, forward, Colgate
- Keeshawn Barthelemy, guard, Colorado
- Maurice Calloo, forward, Oregon State
- Max Cheylov, guard, UC – Santa Barbara
- Brandon Cyrus, guard, UC – Santa Barbara
- Okay Djamgouz, guard, Drake
- Nathaneal Jack, guard, Florida State
- Matey Juric, guard, Drexel
- Elijah Lufile, forward/centre, Oral Roberts
- Liam McChesney, forward, Utah State
- Sean Miller-Moore, guard, Grand Canyon
- Gabe Osabuohien, forward, West Virginia
- Olivier Maxence-Prosper, guard/forward, Clemson
- Victor Radocaj, forward, Eastern Washington
- Sam Thomason, forward, Colgate
- Aher Uguak, forward, Loyola-Chicago