Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NCAA Tournament to feature 22 Canadians including Kentucky’s Gilgeous-Alexander, Syracuse’s Brissett
By ADAM ZAGORIA
One year after an Oregon team featuring Canadians Dillon Brooks and Dylan Ennis reached the Final Four, the Big Dance will once again be chock full of Canadians.
There are 22 players from North of the border set to participate in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, according to Canada Basketball. A year ago, there were 26, including Gonzaga’s Dustin Triano, son of Canada Basketball head coach Jay Triano, whose team lost in the championship game to North Carolina.
“I think it shows that the state of Canadian basketball is still growing,” CIA Bounce director Tony McIntyre, also the father of Dylan and Tyler Ennis, told me last year. “It’s not a one-trick pony here in terms of the talent, and I think it’s going to continue to grow. I think the thing that surprises me the most is these guys are picking great schools and have a chance to compete in the tournament. More so than just the amount of scholarships that Canadian kids are getting, they’re picking schools where they’re competing, schools that are winning and they have a chance to chase their dream and play in the Tournament.”
Canada had back-to-back No. 1 picks in the NBA Draft in Anthony Bennett (UNLV, 2013) and Andrew Wiggins (Kansas, 2014), but neither made a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
The last Canadian to win an NCAA championship was Kyle Wiltjer, who did so with Kentucky in 2012. Before that, Denham Brown won in 2004 (UConn), Dave Thomas in 2000 (Michigan State), Jamaal Magloire in 1998 (Kentucky) and Mike Brkovich in 1979 (Michigan State).
This year Kentucky freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Syracuse’s Oshae Brissett and Virginia Tech’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker will be among the Canadians shooting to cut down the nets in San Antonio.
Coming off SEC Tournament Most Valuable Player honurs, Gilgeous-Alexander will be hoping to make a deep run with the Wildcats, a No. 5 seed in the South Region who open against No. 12 Davidson on Thursday in Boise, Idaho, and could face No. 4 Arizona, which features Canadian Emmanuel Akot, in the second round.
After an excellent rookie season, the Hamilton, Ont. native was named to the All-SEC Freshman Team and All-SEC Second Team. He’s currently projected as the No. 13 pick in the NBA Draft, via ESPN.com.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker, cousin of Shai, is hoping to take Virginia Tech all the way after averaging 10.5 PPG and 3.9 RPG. No. 8 seed Virginia Tech has a tough opening round matchup against No. 9 Alabama on Thursday night.
Brissett had strong freshman year at Syracuse making the ACC All-Freshman Team, averaging 14.8 PPG with 8.8 RPG. However, the Orange find themselves in the First Four and will have to defeat Arizona State on Wednesday to secure their spot in the tournament.
There are more Canadians on the horizon, too.
The 2018 class among Canadians includes 6-7 Duke-bound R.J. Barrett of Montverde (FL) Academy, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft; 6-3 Florida-bound point guard Andrew Nembhard, also of Montverde; 6-8 stud Vanderbilt-bound forward Simi Shittu of Vermont Academy, 6-7 Michigan-bound guard Ignas Bradzekis of Athlete Institute; and 6-3 Arizona State-bound point guard Luguentz Dort of Athlete Institute.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.