The talent level of basketball players coming out of Canada over the past few years has been impressive, and there are no signs of that slowing down any time soon.
Several of the top recruits in the Class of 2017 are from the Great White North. Guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker (#29 in ESPN’s Top 100) has committed to the Virginia Tech Hokies, guard Lindell Wigginton (#49) has committed to the Iowa State Cyclones, and forward Christian David (#83) has committed to the Butler Bulldogs.
While the future is bright, the present is also just as bright for the game of basketball in Canada.
The 2016-17 season isn’t even two weeks old yet, but there are several Canadians who have looked impressive in the NCAA. Some are in their first years in Division I, while others are experienced leaders on championship contenders.
Here are just a few of the many Canadians who are budding stars in the NCAA.
The off-season was a rocky one for the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. From their hiring of Chris Beard, to him leaving two weeks later for the head coaching job with the Texas Tech Red Raiders, and then the overhaul of their roster after players entered the draft or transferred, it was unclear what the team would look like in 2016-17.
New head coach Marvin Menzies had one asset at his disposal that he didn’t need to go get himself. Sophomore guard Jalen Poyser returned for the Rebels, and he was going to be looked upon to lead the offense. Through the team’s first three games, the native of Milton, ON has done just that.
Poyser leads the Rebels in scoring, averaging 17.0 points per game, while helping UNLV to a 2-1 record to open the year. He has scored in double-figures in each game to start the season. Poyser is also averaging 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game, while shooting 43.8% from three point range.
When fellow Canadian Dillon Brooks went down with an injury in the pre-season, it was unclear how the Oregon Ducks would fare to start the year. Many considered the Ducks a top title contender, but without their star player, they needed to weather the storm in the opening week.
Enter forward Chris Boucher.
In Brooks’ absence, Boucher elevated his game to open 2016-17, and has been the Ducks’ top performer through four games. He has averaged a team-best 14.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per contest, while also putting up 2.5 blocks per game.
The loss of Brooks has been evident early on, as the Ducks haven’t been the same dominant team they were a year ago. A double-digit loss to the Baylor Bears in the second game of the year was a bit surprising, but not totally unexpected.
Brooks made his debut against the Georgetown Hoyas in the opener of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational on Monday, recording 8 points in 13 minutes of action in the Ducks’ 65-61 loss.
Boucher and Brooks give the Ducks two of the best Canadians in the NCAA. Here’s to hoping that Boucher can keep up his productivity with Brooks back in the mix.
Amidst the turbulent off-season for UNLV, the Maryland Terrapins were a direct beneficiary of the aftermath. Several players left the program, including incoming freshman forward Justin Jackson. After the coaching changes, Jackson de-committed from UNLV, and reopened his recruitment.
In the end, the native of East York, ON chose the Terrapins, and what a blessing that was for Mark Turgeon and the program.
After losing four starters from last year’s team, Jackson has given the team a boost in the front court with his size and athleticism.
Through four games, Jackson is second on the team in scoring, averaging 11.8 points per contest. He is the team’s top rebounder, pulling down 7.5 rebounds per game.
While his athleticism gets a lot of the praise, his shooting ability has been on full display to start the year. He’s shooting an even 50% from the field, and an impressive 60% from three point range. Jackson’s best shooting game of the year came over the weekend, in the Terrapins’ 71-66 win over the Towson Tigers.
Jackson scored a career-high 21 points, and went 5-of-7 from three point range on the day.
Three other Canadian freshmen are playing well for their new teams to start the 2016-17 season.
Koby McEwan has arguably been the best player for the Utah State Aggies over the first three games of the season. He’s averaged 15.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game for the 3-0 Aggies. Against the Idaho State Bengals on Saturday, he flirted with a triple-double, recording 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists in Utah State’s 85-51 win.
McEwan is shooting 63.3% from the field to open the season.
The high-flying Isiaha Mike has been a force inside for the Duquesne Dukes early on. Standing at 6’8”, Mike adds more size to a front-court rotation that features five players at 6’8” or taller (including Mike).
While averaging just shy of 30 minutes per game, Mike is averaging 11.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest. He put up back-to-back double-digit performances last week, putting up 16 points against the Saint Francis (PA) Red Flash, then following that up with a 17-point performance two days later against the Canisius Golden Griffins.
As if the UIC Flames didn’t have enough up-and-coming talent on their roster with the likes of Tai Odiase and Dikembe Dixson, they may have found themselves another rising star in freshman Godwin Boahen. In his first game at the Division I level, Boahen recorded 12 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists in the Flames’ 82-80 loss to the San Francisco Dons.
He’s averaging 7.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game over his first three games.
– T. Bennett