When I was growing up, whenever someone talked about basketball and Canada, the conversation always turned to Steve Nash. Nash, who is currently a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, is by far the most successful Canadian in NBA history. In his prime, Nash was an excellent passer, a dead-eye shooter, and an all-around floor general on the court. In 2005, he became the first Canadian to win the NBA’s MVP award. He followed that with a second consecutive MVP award in 2006, but fell short of the rare MVP three-peat in 2007, finishing second in voting. Now, at the ripe old age of 40, Nash’s body seems to have finally given out on him, as he has spent the majority of the last two years on the injured reserve. It appears that the biological clock may have finally ran out on Stevie—his mind is still willing, but his body just can’t keep up anymore.
But despite the approaching of the greatest basketball player in Canadian history, it seems that Canadian basketball fans will have no shortage of players to root for in the upcoming years. With a few promising Canadian prospects breaking into the NBA this year, and 25 more taking part in this year’s NCAA March Madness tournament, the future of Canadian basketball looks brighter than ever.
The 2013 NBA Draft seemed to mark the beginning of this new era in Canadian basketball. Two Canadians were selected in the first round, including Anthony Bennett, who shocked the basketball world by being the first Canadian ever to be selected first overall. Bennett, who was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers, has struggled for large portions of his first season in the NBA. His 4.1 points per game currently ranks 20 in scoring amongst rookies—not exactly a stellar number, but Bennett has shown flashes of potential this season and projects to be an effective big man in the league in the coming years.
Along with Bennett, Toronto’s Kelly Olynyk was selected in the first round, thirteenth overall, by the Dallas Mavericks. Moments after Dallas drafted Olynyk, they promptly traded to the Boston Celtics. Olynyk has had a solid season for Boston, appearing in 59 games (starting six of them) and averaging 7.6 points per game while playing approximately 20 minutes a night for the Celtics. With such impressive numbers on such a poor team, the seven-foot-tall Olynyk seems to be primed to have a very solid career in the association.
Canadian basketball players have also excelled at the NCAA level, with a record 25 Canadians making an appearance in the annual March Madness tournament. Among those 25 players, 21 of them are from Ontario, 14 of them averaged over ten points per game, and three of them project to be first round picks in this year’s draft. Those three players are Michigan University’s Nik Stauskas, Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis, and the highly-touted Andrew Wiggins, who projects to be the number one pick in the draft, if he chooses to declare his eligibility.
Wiggins has had an impressive season for the Kansas Jayhawks, averaging 17.4 points a game while playing a key role for the team as a freshman. But after an emotional loss for Kansas in the round of 32 at March Madness, in a game where he was held to only four points, Wiggins seemed unsure if he would declare himself eligible for this year’s draft or decide to play another year in Kansas. I, for one, hope Wiggins does enter the draft; he showed so much potential during his year with the Jayhawks, the best place for him to develop in the NBA where he can focus solely on basketball. One thing is certain though—whenever Wiggins decides to enter the NBA, he will make a big impact wherever he ends up.
Of the other two potential Canadian first round picks, Ennis is the only one who has declared himself eligible for this year’s draft. The Brampton Ontario native led all Canadians this year in assists and steals per game, while being dominant in the point guard position for Syracuse this season. Meanwhile, Stauskas earns the honor of being the only one of the big three Canadians to advance to March Madness’s sweet 16 round. With Stauskas leading the offense, Michigan has a serious chance of being named tournament champions. Regardless of how Michigan does in the tournament, it seems certain that Stauskas has only improved his draft stock and will be a shoe-in for the first round if he declares draft eligibility.
With a couple of rookie big men suiting up in the NBA and three more potential first round picks joining them next year, the future of Canadian basketball is shining bright. I could’ve made this article even longer by writing about a multitude of other Canadian talents, such as Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos, Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim, and Baylor’s Brady Heslip. In fact, Ejim has had such a good season, he has earned praise as a potential fourth Canadian to be selected in this year’s first round. But one thing’s for certain: with so many talented young Canadians ready to break down the door into the NBA, Canadians will have quite a few players to talk about long after they finish talking about Steve Nash.