Until recently, the college basketball landscape had been dominated by American players, and understandably so. Compared to the NBA, college basketball garners far less international attention. It was uncommon for players from other countries, including Canada, to become stars on big time college basketball teams. Since the high school class of 2015 entered the college ranks, a class that featured Kentucky’s Jamal Murray of Ontario, Canada, the college level has become increasingly saturated with Canadian talent. Based on the performance of these Canadian players in college so far, don’t expect this trend so slow down anytime soon.
Since Murray emerged as yet another Kentucky lottery pick in 2016, the top Canadian players have continued to experience success in the college game. The class of 2017 featured four players that appeared in ESPN’s top 50; Nickeil Alexander-Walker (Virginia Tech), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Kentucky/LA Clippers), Lindell Wigginton (Iowa State), Oshae Brissett (Syracuse), and Emmanuel Akot (Arizona). Gilgeous-Alexander is the only one-and-done of the group, having performed stellar enough to be taken by the LA Clippers with a lottery pick last June. His cousin, Alexander-Walker, has taken a big leap in his sophomore campaign. Alexander-Walker has led the Hokies to a 17-3 record thus far, averaging 17.9 ppg along the way. After averaging an incredible 16.7 ppg as a freshman, Wigginton missed the first ten games of this season due to a left foot injury. Since his return, he has scored 12.9 ppg coming off the bench. Although his scoring production has declined, he has begun to round back into form, as he recently scored an Iowa State season high of 28 points against West Virginia. For Syracuse, Brissett has been a valuable contributor in consecutive seasons. Although his statistics have slightly dipped (14.9 ppg to 13.3 ppg and 8.8 rpg to 7.4 rpg), Brissett has been more efficient from the field while playing fewer minutes (35.4% to 38.8% and 38.1 mpg to 32.9 mpg). Among the five players named, Akot, who scores 3.8 ppg, is the only one who has struggled to find success at the college level. However, given his raw ability, there is still time to find his way at Arizona.
The current freshman class, the class of 2018, is headlined by Ontario’s own, Duke’s RJ Barrett. Out of high school, Barrett was considered the top overall prospect by most recruiting sites, and he hasn’t disappointed. With averages of 23.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg, and 3.8 apg, Barrett has essentially become a lock to be selected in the top 5 of the upcoming NBA draft. After Barrett, the 2018 class featured the likes of Simisola Shittu (Vanderbilt), Andrew Nembhard (Florida), and Luguentz Dort (Arizona State), and Ignas Brazdeikis (Michigan). Of the latter four players, Shittu is considered the best NBA prospect due to his versatility. While he hasn’t yet developed a three-point shot, Shittu is an elite athlete for someone 6’10 and 240 pounds. Nembhard has mostly flown under the radar this season, but he is quietly leading the Gators with 6.0 apg, which ranks third in the entire SEC. For Arizona State, Dort dominated early in the season but has since come back to earth. Although he has not been as effective as he was earlier on, he still maintains averages of 16.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg, and 2.5 apg, emerging as a dark-horse first round prospect along the way. Ignas Brazdeikis has been the most pleasant surprise of the group, as he is bearing the day-to-day offensive load for the Wolverines as only a freshman. Brazdeikis has notched 15.5 ppg and 5.5 rpg, all while doing it at efficient clips across the board (46.7 FG%, 37.1 3P%, and 78.8 FT%).
We have now witnessed Canadian success in college basketball for a number of years, and it appears that we are on the verge of seeing a Canadian chosen in the lottery for a third consecutive season (the 7th in the last 9). Considering that the number of high profile talents from Canada has increased in recent years, it appears that Canadians in college basketball are here to stay.