125 years after Canadian Dr. James Naismith created the game of basketball, his sons are permeating the game more than he could have ever imagined. This past season there were 92 Canadians in NCAA Men’s Basketball, and the number is growing every year. More importantly, these Canadians are taking on bigger and bigger roles on winning teams. Here is a look at north of the border guys who are going to dominate college basketball this year.
Nazareth Mitrou-Long, who goes by Naz Long, is locked and loaded to terrorize Big 12 backcourts and lead the Iowa State Cyclones back to March Madness, where they have been a mainstay the last several years. This Mississauga, Ontario native isn’t the first canuck to take the court for the Cyclones, as fan favorite and Canadian National Team member Melvin Ejim also laced them up for Iowa State. Faulty hips caused Long to shut down after only eight games last season, but an NCAA-granted medical redshirt allowed him another year of eligibility. At age 23, Long will be trusted to lead a team who graduated a boatload of talent and production last year. Naz won’t light up the stat sheet, but his guidance and defensive toughness will ensure Cyclone success.
If you’re looking for a hooper who embodies Canadian stereotypes like being reserved and over-polite, you aren’t going to find it with Xavier Rathan-Mayes. This Florida State sniper, known as “X” to friends and broadcasters, is going to blaze down the court, cross you over, then drain a deep three—and he isn’t going to say sorry.
Rathan-Mayes has a big personality and NBA aspirations, something you’d expect from a guy who played with Andrew Wiggins and Tyler Ennis on several AAU and international teams growing up. His dynamic scoring made headlines against Miami where he exploded for 30 points in 4:38 (seriously, think about that for a minute) in an inspiring comeback attempt that fell short. At 6’4” and 190 pounds, Xavier will be transitioning to more point this year in an attempt to improve his first round draft stock.
Here is extremely exciting news: The Oregon Ducks might be the best team in the NCAA, and they have so many Canadians they might as well be called the Oregon Loonies. Ranked #5 in the country going into the season, I’ve got them pegged to win the NCAA tournament. They start a trio of Canadians that arguably are the best players on the roster.
Their ringleader is Dillon Brooks, who is the straw that stirs the drink, and I will boldly predict he wins Player of the Year in College basketball this season. A versatile 6’7”, Brooks is ready to answer the call at both ends of the floor. He averaged 16.7 points alongside 5.4 boards and 3.1 dimes, while locking down wings and chipping in 1.1 steals a game. It will be very interesting to see if he decides to go pro after this season.
Nobody, and I mean nobody, anticipated Chris Boucher to succeed at the level he did for Oregon last year. A 6’9” beanpole out of Montreal, Boucher was a high school dropout with no college offers, working as a dishwasher to help support his family. His fortunes changed when a Junior College coach saw him dominating a pickup game, which lead to Boucher playing competitive ball again. After quickly developing his game, he won Junior College player of the year in 2014, which led Oregon coach Dana Altman to give him an opportunity.
Despite criticisms of Boucher’s slight frame, questionable basketball history, and unorthodox style, Altman threw him into the starting lineup where he became one of the Pac-12’s best big men. Boucher is a rare combination of shot blocking and three-point shooting. He set a new Pac-12 record this past season as the only player with over 100 blocks and 35 three-pointers in a year. When the Ducks dominates this season, expect Chris Boucher to become a folk hero in the pacific northwest.
The third member of Oregon’s Canadian trio is Dylan Ennis, a transfer from Villanova. He’s a prototypical glue guy that any college team would love to have. Ennis is the older brother of Houston Rocket Tyler Ennis (yes, older brother). Dylan is entering his sixth year of college basketball after being granted two redshirt years. A fellow pass first point guard, Dylan is a reliable distributor that looks to get his team into the offence quickly. Ennis’ veteran savvy could be the x-factor that gets Oregon deep into the tournament come March.
More Sons Of Naismith:
Mychal Mulder might be one of the best kept secrets in college basketball. Playing at Kentucky behind yet another Canadian Jamal Murray last year, this Windsor, Ontario guard didn’t get many minutes. But he was a four star recruit who will have a better opportunity to play now and show his worth.
Joseph Chartouny, a guard from Montreal, won Rookie of the Year in a very talented Atlantic-10 conference for the Fordham Rams, and I can’t wait to see what he follows up with this season.
And finally, these Canadians are on ESPN’s Top 100 recruiting class of 2017:
#29 Nickell Alexander-Walker (Toronto) is going to Virginia Tech.
#44 Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Toronto) is uncommitted.
#49 Lindell Wigginton (Dartmouth, Nova Scotia) is going to Iowa State.
#83 Christian David (Milton, Ontario) is going to Butler.
Sons Of Naismith is a column on NCAA Basketball from a Canadian perspective.