Back

Canadian Basketball Players Dominating in the United States

Anthony Bennett after he was chosen as the first Canadian to ever be drafted first overall

In the world of sports, when someone thinks Canada, they’re probably thinking Hockey and Wayne Gretzky. Well, there is a revolution and it is happening right now before our eyes. Not in hockey, not in soccer, but in basketball.

The explosion of basketball talent coming from Canada over the past few years is something that cannot be ignored. Currently, the NBA is home to a total of only ten Canadian born players. Seven of these ten players have three seasons or less of NBA experience under their belt. The other three players being Joel Anthony of the Miami Heat, Samuel Dalembert of the Milwaukee Bucks, and perhaps the most notable Canadian to ever play in the NBA Steve Nash of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Former Texas forward Tristan Thompson started the Canadian basketball revolution when he was drafted fourth overall in the 2011 NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers. At the time, this was the highest a Canadian native had ever been drafted. Later in the first round, Thompson’s longhorn teammate Cory Joseph was chosen by the San Antonio Spurs with the 29th overall pick. This also made history as two Canadians had never been chosen in the first round of the same draft.

In 2012, Canadians were accredited with another first round pick when Andrew Nicholson was chosen 19th overall by the Orlando Magic. Last year’s NBA draft brought more history to Canadian basketball players when Anthony Bennett was chosen by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the number one overall pick. Canadian Kelly Olynyk was also chosen in the first round with the 13th overall pick by the Boston Celtics, repeating the historical mark of two first round picks made in 2011.

Anthony Bennett was the first Canadian born player ever to be chosen as a number one pick in the NBA draft, but with the way Canada is producing top prospects he likely will not be the last. As of now, hyped up Kansas freshman star and Canadian native Andrew Wiggins is projected to be the number one pick in the 2014 NBA draft according to ESPN’s mock draft. From not having any number one draft picks to possibly having the top pick two years in a row would definitely make a statement in the basketball world.

Another Canadian prospect who ranked in ESPN’s top 25 of the class of 2013 is Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis. Ennis was recently one of ten players named to the 2014 freshman of the year watch list. Also from the class of 2013 was 44th ranked Xavier Rathan-Mayes who now is playing at Florida State.

Last recruiting class displayed a lot of talent and promise from Canada but it certainly did not stop after that. The highest ranked player from Canada in the 2014 high school class is forward Trey Lyles. He was ranked 7th overall in ESPN’s top 100 and recently committed to Kentucky on Tuesday. Another Canadian 5-star prospect coming up through the ranks is stud Justin Jackson. He is currently the number seven-ranked prospect for the class of 2016.

So why the sudden rise in Canadian players topping the charts in American basketball leagues? When the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies became NBA franchises in 1995, basketball started to become more and more popular throughout Canada. All of the Canadian stars emerging currently and over the past few years are the first generation that grew up with true Canadian teams to watch and be a part of as fans. Canada has been growing in basketball programs and dominant AAU teams that travel throughout the United States gaining exposure to the best competition. However, Canada still is not considered a force in basketball, so the top players usually transfer to a top prep high school in the states to gain further exposure and find better competition. Thompson, Bennett, Joseph, Wiggins, Lyles, Ennis, and Jackson all attended prep schools in the United States.

The top Canadian players transferring to the United States for high school has proven to be beneficial for their futures. However, some coaches are trying to keep these stars in their home country as long as possible. A new Canadian prep school called Athlete Institute in Orangeville, Ontario has been started with the intentions to keep some of Canada’s top talent close to home and not transfer to the United States. The idea is to have an international schedule giving the athletes the opportunity to play against top schools from the U.S. while at the same time representing Canada and getting equal exposure.

At the collegiate level those players who choose to stay in Canada for their schooling and basketball have a different way of gaining exposure. For example, every pre-season Canadian teams get the opportunity to have exhibition games against United States teams throughout the mid to northern parts of the U.S. This past pre-season Canadian powerhouse Carelton University was able to come out victorious over Wisconsin and lost a close one to Syracuse in overtime.

Canada as a country has had minimal success in basketball competitions. The only Olympic medal they have ever acquired was back in 1936 when they took silver. However, with the rise in talent and the growing population of the sport, this also may begin to change. As more and more Canadian players make impacts at the college and pro level, popularity of the sport will only continue to grow. Of all sports, basketball proved to be the most popular team sport for Canadians aged 12-17 based off of a 2010 study done by Toronto-based Solutions Research Group. The future only continues to look up for Canada as a basketball nation.