Perhaps your basketball-pledging allegiance is more professional than collegiate, like myself. But, even the most devout of NBA fanatics can respectfully consent the month of March to the greatest live theatre the country receives, the NCAA Tournament. ‘The country’ part of that last sentence is of course always assuredly correlated to the United States, and rightfully so, as it provides the overwhelming majority of the viewership. Well, while the US maintains the dominant viewership and will likely forever remain the warehouse for providing basketball talent, now is the time for ‘the country’ to become introduced to the Canadian influence on March Madness this time around.
By now, you’ve become familiar with names like Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins (Vaughn), Michigan’s Nik Stauskas (Mississauga), and Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis (Brampton) as the headliners of Canadian imported talent. All three are pretty clearly their respective team’s best player, and the success of those teams is hingent upon those players. The better Wiggins, Stauskas, and Ennis play, the further Kansas, Michigan, and Syracuse will continue to dance. Of note: A potential Sweet Sixteen matchup looms between Wiggins and Ennis barring an upset, which would be a second tier type of impact for Canada that could only be compared to Magic and Bird’s impact on the States in ’79.
The headliners are great, great talents. All of which have legitimate NBA futures. But there’s 27 Canadians in the tournament this March, and Wiggins, Stauskas, and Ennis aren’t the only notable Great White North hoopers in the field. In fact, a couple of Canadians are going to play major roles for teams with serious championship aspirations, and others will be the integral ingredient in catapulting Cinderella to glory.
Melvin Ejim, SF – Iowa State: Hailing from Toronto. You may have caught win of Ejim’s name back in February when he set a Big 12-record by scoring 48 points in a game. Let that sink in for a second. The 48-point outburst was more an abnormality than anything (he shot 20-24!), but Ejim was the Big 12 Player of the Year in this his senior season. He led a deep Cyclones team in scoring at 18 a game, and while calling the Big 12 Player of the Year the best player on his own team is from the department of DUH, DeAndre Kane nearly averaged a triple-double this season for Iowa State. The Cyclones are the three seed in the favorable East bracket. Presumably (HORRIBLE word to use this time of year, I know), Iowa St. and Michigan St. will square off in the Elite Eight, and Ejim will be the X-factor.
Kevin Pangos, PG – Gonzaga: Out of the municipality of York, Pangos might be someone you’ve heard of before, too. Gonzaga has not been shy in its recruitment of Canadian’s in the past with guys like Kelly Olynyk and Robert Sacre being recent notables, and currently residing on NBA rosters. Pangos and the Zags are probably in more of a comfortable spot as an eight seed — under the radar, overlooked. They take on another potential sleeping giant in Oklahoma State in the first round, and the eight-nine matchup is usually a coin-flip. Pangos has been there before, and has played over 30 minutes a game every one of his three seasons. He’s as reliable a shooter there is in the country, and if Gonzaga has a run in them, Pangos will be fueling that run. On a personal note, I have Oklahoma State in my Final Four so I wouldn’t exactly be upset to see Pangos and the Zags get knocked off.
Jordan Bachynski, C – Arizona State: The first non-Ontario player on the list is out of Calgary, Alberta. Presumably, (feel much stronger about using this word in this context, this time) he’s a Bret Hart fan, which is all that really matters. Draft Express called Bachynski one of the most improved players this season, his senior year. He led the nation in blocks with over four a game, the only player in the nation to average over four. His impact for the number ten seed Sun Devils will be defensively against the seven seed Texas Longhorns, who also have a nice recent history of Canadian alumni in Myck Kabongo and Cory Joseph. If Arizona State were to pull off the upset, Bachynski would likely face the two seed in the Midwest region, Stauskas’ Michigan Wolverines. Bachynski is a legit 7-foot-2 and his size and presence in the paint should cause problems for Texas’ bulky bigs.
Of course, there’s many other names I could touch on, like Baylor’s Brady Heslip and Kenny Cherry. Ideally, I’d like to eventually give some comprehensive scouting reports of the big three: Wiggins, Stauskas, and Ennis as all seem to be locks to declare for the NBA draft and be first-rounder’s. But here’s to the influx of Canadian talent – hopefully one of these guys can help make you a billionaire. Or at least, a few hundred bucks richer and bragging rights among your friends and coworkers in your local pool.