Full-Court Press: Canadian stars surfacing in the NCAA
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Basketball Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - As Steve Nash nears the ultimate end to a storied career, there will soon be an opening for one of his fellow countrymen to become the new face of Canadian Basketball.
Coincidentally, there happens to be a fully loaded unit of young Canadian players emerging at NCAA schools across the country. There are more than 90 on Division I level squads this season, some whom are starting to garner the attention of basketball fans everywhere with their consistently solid play.
Nash, who turned 38 this week, also ventured south across the border for his collegiate career to play in the West Coast Conference for Santa Clara, which he led to multiple NCAA Tournament victories as an underdog while collecting multiple WCC player of the year awards.
The Broncos dipped into the Canadian talent pool again to snag Marc Trasolini a few years ago. While the 6-foot-9 forward, who is now a redshirt senior, was injured all of last season, the Broncos finished with a dismal 8-22 record and without a win in conference play.
The Vancouver native has returned this season to average 15.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per game while helping Santa Clara become one of the most improved teams in the NCAA. The Broncos dropped to 17-8 overall and 5-5 in WCC action on Thursday with a tough loss to Saint Mary's. Trasolini is not even the most heralded big man in his own league.
Most collegiate centers fail in comparison to Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk as well. The 7-footer from Kamloops has been outstanding while leading the No. 6 Bulldogs with 17.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game on their way to a 22-2 record. Olynyk burst onto the scene this season after redshirting a season ago, while Robert Sacre of North Vancouver started in the middle for the Zags.
Sacre was one of five Canadians chosen in the past two NBA drafts and there are plenty more on their way.
UNLV's freshman forward Anthony Bennett is already projected to be one of the top picks in the upcoming draft. The 6-foot-8, 240-pound rookie and Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch, who hails from Montreal, Quebec, have both made an immediate impact for coach Dave Rice's Runnin' Rebels, who are 17-6 entering their key matchup against New Mexico on Saturday.
While the Lobos do not have any player from Canada within their program, their intrastate rival New Mexico State Aggies have four players from Canada as part of their group that features eight total international imports. The four Canadians on the squad - Daniel Mullings, Tyrone Watson, Sim Bhullar and Renaldo Dixon - are the No. 1, 3, 4 and 6 scorers for New Mexico State, respectively. If he continues to develop, Mullings has a very strong chance of becoming the first Aggie to be drafted into the NBA since Randy Brown in 1991.
Mullins is not the only top-notch guard from Canada shining from the backcourt. Junior Cadougan of Marquette has provided steady point guard play to keep the Golden Eagles in contention for the Big East crown.
Nik Stauskas has earned the Big Ten Freshman of the Week three times while starting for Michigan. The Wolverine faithful have embraced the rookie swingman's performance so much that a Blue and Maize-colored Canadian flag appears in the student section every time he makes a play at home games. Many have thought Stauskas to be just a spot-up shooter, but he has proven to be more during Michigan's remarkable campaign.
There are a few Canadian players who are hard to classify as anything but shooters. Brady Heslip from Burlington, Ontario, has been tremendously important to Baylor's recent success over the past few seasons due to his ability to stretch the defense. Heslip, who is the nephew of former Toronto Raptor's coach Jay Triano, made a team-best 100 3-pointers last season, including a whopping nine against Colorado in last season's NCAA Tournament.
Other current Canadian amateurs to play in last season's Big Dance include Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Nik Cochran (Davidson), Jason Calliste (Detroit), Myck Kabongo (Texas) and Kyle Wiltjer, who was able to cut down the nets as a member of John Calipari's national champion Kentucky Wildcats.
Pangos has a reputation very similar to Heslip as a nightmare for opponents from beyond the arc. The 6-2 sophomore is the top scoring option in Gonzaga's backcourt thanks to his alarmingly high 44.6 percent shooting from behind the 3-point line.
Cochran is a master from the free-throw line with a nation-leading 94.8 percent conversion rate from the stripe. Calliste also showed he has a dangerous shooting touch on Thursday by dropping in five 3-pointers en route to 22 points while leading the Titans to their 16th win of the season.
Kabongo has yet to play this season due to a suspension handed down from the NCAA for a rules infraction, but his upcoming return to action will be intriguing for not only for Longhorns fans, but also to the entire college basketball world.
Wiltjer played a supporting role for the Wildcats during their run to supremacy. But since a handful of his teammates made a jump to the professional ranks, the 6-10 Canadian-American forward has expanded his role to become UK's third-leading scorer. He also has a very accurate shot from distance and may find himself a spot in the NBA with his teammates due to his rare combination of size and shooting ability.
Other notable imports from Canada include Jordan Bachynski (Arizona State), Dallin Bachynski (Utah), Dwight Powell (Utah), Olivier Hanlan (Boston College), Murphy Burnatowski (Colgate), Melvin Ejim (Iowa State) and Justin Edwards (Maine).
While all of the aforementioned players have added to the excitement surrounding the growth of Canada's basketball culture, Andrew Wiggins is expected to take it to the next level. Wiggins is the consensus No. 1 senior recruit due a combination of size, athleticism and skills that has not been seen in a high schooler since LeBron James.
Wiggins has not decided on which school he will attend next fall, but he has narrowed his choices down to Florida State, his parents' alma mater, and Kentucky. Wherever the highly touted recruit ends up, he will be instantly thrust into the limelight.
Although Wiggins most likely will be the most talked about player from Canada once he enters the collegiate ranks, the entire group should receive the credit for turning Canada into both a hotbed for recruiting and a much more relevant country in international competitions.
02/08 10:04:36 ET