Basketball

8 Canadians worth watching among record number in NCAA basketball

If you want evidence that Canadian basketball is thriving, look no further than the NCAA. On the men's side, a record number of Canadians — over 150 — are scattered throughout American schools. Meanwhile, more than 100 Canadian women are playing NCAA basketball — another all-time high.

Over 150 men, 100 women playing U.S. college hoops an all-time high for Canada

Minnesota Golden Gophers guard Marcus Carr dribbles during a game in March. The Toronto native has been one of the top guards in NCAA basketball this season. (Darron Cummings/The Associated Press)

If you want evidence that Canadian basketball is thriving, look no further than the NCAA.

On the men's side, a record number of Canadians — over 150 — are scattered throughout American schools. Meanwhile, there are seven Canadian women among the pre-season top-10 teams alone. More than 100 Canadian women are playing NCAA basketball — another all-time high.

It's part of the reason Drew Ebanks projects 40 Canadians will be in the NBA within five years — the same prediction recently made by Team Canada general manager Rowan Barrett. Ebanks runs On Point Basketball, a website dedicated to Canadian basketball.

The NCAA seasons recently started, but like with college football, postponements and delays are ravaging the sport. Duke coach Mike Kryzyzewski recently called to pause play following a loss.

For now, the journey to March Madness continues.

Here are some Canadians you should be watching:

Marcus Carr, point guard, Minnesota. Carr played high school basketball with RJ Barrett at Montverde Academy in Orlando, Fla. After one year at Pittsburgh, Carr transferred to Minnesota where he debuted last season, averaging 15.4 points per game. Through five games this season, the Toronto native has already pushed that number to 25.6.

"Right now, I don't know if you could say there's a better point guard — maybe [potential No. 1 pick] Cade Cunningham. Other than him, I think Marcus Carr is probably playing the best at the point guard position in the country," Ebanks said.

Carr's older brother, Duane Notice, has played for Team Canada and Raptors 905, and is now with the CEBL's Hamilton Honey Badgers. Carr contemplated entering the 2020 draft, but with the pandemic preventing some workouts and promoting uncertainty, he chose to return to Minnesota for a year. So far, that choice is paying off for the smooth-shooting guard.

Laeticia Amihere, forward, South Carolina. Credited as the first Canadian woman to dunk, Amihere went viral when she pulled off the feat at just 15 years old. Now Amihere, who's already played 33 games with Team Canada, is looking to step into a key role on the pre-season No. 1 Gamecocks.

"At some point in her career, she's going to be possibly the top player on that South Carolina team," Ebanks said.

Amihere tore her ACL in 2017, and as recently as last season was still playing on a minutes restriction. But the highly touted athlete made the most of her 12.8 minutes per game, averaging nearly five points and four rebounds. That only portends well for what's to come.

Andrew Nembhard, guard, Gonzaga. Nembhard joins the top-ranked Bulldogs as a backup to NBA lottery hopeful Jalen Suggs. But as soon as the third game, Suggs was hurt and Nembhard stepped in, scoring 19 points to go with six assists and five rebounds in a win over No. 11 West Virginia.

"He filled in admirably, way better than expected in that game. He's kind of like a cheat code for Gonzaga basketball," Ebanks said.

An NBA hopeful, Nembhard wants to use the stage Gonzaga will get this season to vault up draft boards following two average seasons at Florida.

Aaliyah Edwards, forward, Connecticut. Edwards is the likeliest NCAA Canadian to reach the pros, according to Ebanks. Expected to earn a large share of minutes as a freshman, Edwards' UConn debut was delayed due to positive tests in the program. But the 18-year-old, who wears purple and gold braids to honour Kobe Bryant, will get her first taste as the Huskies play four games in the next 10 days.

Zach Edey, centre, Purdue. By virtue of being seven-foot-four — yes, you read that correctly — Edey is instantly an NBA prospect. You would think someone at that height has played basketball his whole life, except Edey didn't participate in his first organized event until 2017, citing himself as "more of a hockey and baseball guy."

"His trajectory in basketball has been so far ahead of where you would predict. He punishes defenders inside, he plays like a big man and that's very surprising considering he's only been playing basketball for a few years," Ebanks said.

Edey is an old-school centre who provides loads of post presence, but he may need to improve his IQ and athleticism to become playable in today's NBA.

Hailey Brown, forward, Michigan. Brown, now in her third season, has started for No. 19 Michigan since she was a freshman. One year later, she earned the school's Unsung Hero award for her contributions to the team outside of the box score as a sophomore. Now a senior, Brown is hoping her sound play translates to a pro career.

"Hailey's been having a pretty solid season, showing a touch from outside, being able to shoot the three as well. So you gotta like what she's been doing."

Brown's boyfriend, RJ Barrett, was drafted third overall by the New York Knicks in 2019.

Eugene Omoruyi, forward, Oregon. The Rutgers transfer immediately impressed in his new digs, with a career-high 31 points and 11 rebounds in his Ducks debut. Coach Dana Altman lavished Omoruyi with praise for his effort following the game.

The native of Rexdale, Ont., attended Orangeville Prep, where he played with NBAers Jamal Murray and Thon Maker. He's hoping an old-school post game can help him play with that pair once again.

"He relishes contact, can jump through the gym … Right now I think scouts are perked up for Eugene. You'd wish Eugene was about 6-8, he'd probably be projected top 5, but because he's a bit of a tweener we'll see what happens," Ebanks said.

Shaina Pellington, guard, Arizona. The Pickering, Ont., native was Big 12 freshman of the year with Oklahoma in 2018 before transferring to the desert. Because of transfer rules, Arizona's late-November opener was Pellington's first college game in 550 days. In between, the sharpshooter spent time with the national team, helping it qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

Ebanks said Pellington's polish means she's well-positioned for a run to make the WNBA.

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