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Canadian Roundup: Storylines for Week of Feb 9 to Feb 15

Ed’s Note: With the NBA week cut short due to the All Star break, there will be no power rankings for this week’s Roundup. NBA Player power rankings will be back in next week’s Canadian Roundup.

1. Americup Roster Announced

While the majority of attention has been focused on the Olympic Qualifying tournament this summer, there’s actually another event for the senior men’s national team coming up. The FIBA 2021 AmeriCup qualifiers are starting this February and Canada is hosting the Dominican Republic in a home and home series. If you’re in Oshawa on February 21st, come out and support the national team.

The AmeriCup used to be a tournament with much more importance in the international basketball world. It used to be a qualifying tournament for the Americas region for both the FIBA World Cup and the Olympics. However, after FIBA revamped the qualification process in 2017, the AmeriCup has  very little significance now. That being said, the tournament could serve as another opportunity for the men’s team to improve their FIBA rankings. Right now, Canada is ranked 21st in the world and a lowly 7th in the Americas region. Canada’s low ranking contributed to them being placed in the group of death this summer at the World Cup so its really important for the program to climb up the rankings over the next few years.

The roster that was announced for the qualifiers was actually surprisingly strong. Without our NBA guys and even our best Euro pros, Canada was able to secure commitments from a real talented group of players. Aaron Best, Kaza Kajami-Keane and Phil Scrubb continue to be stalwarts for the program.  I would’ve looked liked to see some of the Canadians that are tearing up the G league (Tyler Ennis playing would have been a dream come true) or even guys like Ejim, (Dylan) Ennis and Wiltjer, but this team is definitely solid.

One player that was a huge surprise was Andrew Nicholson. There’s been some rumours floating around that Nicholson was unhappy with the way Canada basketball treated him during the World Cup Qualifiers and that the relationship was unsalvageable. Nicholson, a former NBA first round pick, has played the last few years in the CBA in China. The good news is Nicholson has developed into quite the shooter. He’s shooting a blistering 49.4% from three on 6.2 attempts per game over in China this season (he’s shot over 41.0% from three on over 5.4 attempts a game over the past three seasons in the CBA). Nicholson could find a way to make the final roster for the Olympic qualifiers in Victoria this summer, especially with how thin we are up front. At this point in time, I would take Nicholson’s veteran experience and shooting over some of the younger guys like Kabengele and Brissett and would much rather have him on defense compared to Wiltjer. Nicholson’s recommitment to team Canada is some potentially big news for this June.

2. Record Breaking Night at All-Star Weekend

At this year’s Rising Stars game, a record 4 Canadians suited up for team World, solidifying Canada as a premier nation in producing basketball talent.  Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, RJ Barrett and Brandon Clarke started for team World and Nickeil Alexander-Walker logged the most minutes off the bench.

I know it was just an exhibition game but the Canadians were really impressive. RJ Barrett scored a game high 27 points and seemed to be the only one interested in playing defense at the beginning of the game. Brandon Clarke was the only player on team World to score over 20 points and he got to that mark shooting 11-15 from the field. The four Canadians even got to share the court at the same time for a stretch in the 3rd and 4th quarter.

http://twitter.com/NBACanada/status/1228699234397904896

Also Shai had this smooth behind the back move he pulled at the very start of the game. He’s playing with so much confidence and has truly become one of the faces of Canada basketball.

And if their good play wasn’t enough, all four guys spoke pretty openly about Canada basketball and how much the game has grown in Canada. Shai, Nickeil and RJ all confirmed their commitments to Canada this summer, which is some excellent news.

Although Brandon Clarke didn’t verbally commit, we finally got someone to ask him about playing for Canada this summer. You can take what he said and interpret how you want, but it’s clear that the other guys were already in his ear about suiting up. Here’s hoping that Brandon Clarke, who may already be Canada’s best big, shows up in Victoria this summer.

3. A Look Ahead into the Future

With this week a little light on Canadian basketball news in the NBA, I thought it would be a good time to take a peak into the next wave of elite Canadian talent in high school. In a couple of years, many of these guys are going to become some household names so its time we get familiar with some of them .

I wrote a couple weeks ago about the media putting an immense amount of hype on these basketball prodigies at such a young age and how all this hype often leaves fans disappointed when players don’t reach the lofty heights the media set out for them. What I’m trying to do with this piece is get passionate Canadian basketball fans to be aware of some of players who are coming up in the system, not create some absurd amount of hype. When we do it responsibly, learning about some bright young players can bring some excitement for a nation’s basketball program, even for one that has already produced so much talent.

Karim Mane (Vanier College, class of 2020)

Mane is probably the most well known Canadian prospect in this year’s high school graduating class. He’s a really explosive athlete that can get to the rim at ease. At 6’5, he’s dangerous in the open court and really puts pressure on defense in the paint. Here’s a really good video highlighting some of Mane’s biggest offensive strengths.

While I love his aggressiveness attacking the rim, it can get him in trouble at times. Mane is often out of control on his drives, which leads to a ton of turnovers. His wild, frantic pace is a double edged sword for Mane. Yes he gets to the rim a lot, but it also means a lot of turnovers and forced contested layup attempts.

Mane’s also got some elite physical tools to go along with his elite athleticism. According to some sources like NBA Draft Room (not the most credible source, but still pretty reliable) he boasts a 7 foot wingspan. These physical tools make Mane an excellent rebounding guard and also gives him some long-term potential as a strong defender.

There’s been some talks about Mane potentially jumping straight to the NBA this season. Mane is an older prospect (he’ll be 20 before he even sets foot on campus, if he ever does) and that could contribute to him wanting to get to the league as soon as possible. That being said, I really think Mane needs to develop in the NCAA for a year or two. He’s already a physical specimen, he just needs some more time for his own development.

Bennedict Mathurin (NBA Academy Latin America, class of 2020)

Quebec is quickly becoming the Ontario of this next wave of Canadian talent. They keep producing talented prospects and we’ve already begun to see some of the products of Quebec thrive in the NBA (Chris Boucher and Luguentz Dort).

Mathurin, who recently reclassified to the class of 2020 and committed to Arizona, is another athletic guard from Quebec. Though he’s in the same class as Mane, he’s 2 years younger and is a jump out the gym athlete. Mathurin can really get up and he routinely dunks on other players his age. He really thrives in transition where his athleticism allows him to finish at the rim with ease.

And he’s not just a one-trick pony. Standing at 6’6, Mathurin has a real nice shooting stroke and is comfortable with the ball in his hands. Mathurin was recently invited to the Basketball Without Borders Global Camp in Chicago during NBA All-Star weekend. By all accounts he really impressed the scouts at the camp and was selected as a camp All-Star (along with 3 other Canadians!). And if you needed more proof of his insane athleticism, look no further than this video posted by NBA Canada on twitter.

https://twitter.com/NBACanada/status/1228737575923470338

Out of all the guys in the 2020 class, Mathurin is definitely my #1 guy. He’s got a real shot of making the NBA, given his athleticism and young age and it will be interesting to see how he develops at the University of Arizona.

Charles Bediako (Andrews Osborne Academy, class of 2021)

At 6’11, Charles Bediako is the first legit Canadian big to garner some NBA interest even before setting foot at a college campus in a couple of years (Shittu was the last guy and that was 2 years ago). Bediako was also invited to the BWB Global Camp and was also named a camp All-Star.

Bediako has improved immensely in just the past couple of years. Though he’s still extremely thin and raw offensively, he’s really begun to come into his own as a player. He’s long and his athleticism is really beginning to catch up with his height. Despite his improvements, Bediako still looks a bit clunky and uncoordinated on the floor. He’s got that awkward movement of a teen who grew tall way too fast. This clunkiness is on full display here as does this awkward looking shuffle/trot across the paint on the defensive rotation. Again it’s not the worst thing in the world, but its something noticeable with Bediako’s game.

It’s definitely gotten better over the years, but its still noticeable at times. Give him a couple of years to get used to his size and Bediako could be a serious problem. Here on this sequence his improved fluidity is on full display and he uses his long strides beautifully. Catches the ball just inside the three point line and takes two gigantic steps and lays it in with no dribble. Really made my jaw drop.

Over the past few years, Bediako has routinely been on the junior national teams and he’s often been the youngest on the team. He had a real nice showing at the FIBA U19 World Cup this summer reaching double figures in 4 of the 8 games at just 17 years old. After the tournament his stock has shot up considerably and he’s now ranked in the top 40 in his class on almost every recruiting site.

Bediako is currently being recruited by the likes of Duke, Louisville, Baylor, Michigan State and Alabama just to name a few.

Caleb Houstan (Montverde Academy, class of 2022)

If Montverde Academy sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because it has the best basketball program of any prep school right now in America. Guys like D’Angelo Russell, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, RJ Barrett and Cade Cunningham (one of, if not, the top player in the class of 2020) have all played under Kevin Boyle at Montverde. And you can add Caleb Houstan to that shortlist of elite talents.

Currently ranked #4 in his class according to ESPN, Houstan stands at 6’7 and is an excellent shooter. His shot mechanics are perfect and his high release point allows him to shoot over defenders closing out with ease. Though he’s not an explosive athlete, he’s got that Shai-level of of smoothness on the court. Like Bediako, Houstan’s athleticism and hops are beginning to catch up with his height and its going to make an even more dangerous offensive weapon.

Houstan last suited up for Canada in the FIBA U16 Americas tournament this past summer where he was absolutely dominant and led Canada to a 2nd place finish. He was second in the tournament in scoring at 22.8 points per game (he was only player in the top 5 PPG leaders to play less than 30 minutes a game) and set a new Canadian record for points scored in a FIBA U16 Americas game with 29. He was Canada’s go to option on offense and was unstoppable at times. He also shot a fiery 50.8% from three and 44% from the field. Houstan’s play did not go unrecognized as he was one of two Canadians to be named to the All-Star Five for the tournament.

Out of all the players on the list in this piece, I’m highest on Houstan. His shooting stroke combined with his budding athleticism makes him one special player to watch out for

Elijah Fisher (Crestwood Preparatory College, class of 2023)

Fisher is definitely the most hyped prospect coming out of Canada since Andrew Wiggins. At just 15 years of age Fisher has had a feature in Slam HS Magazine, been a regular on Overtime’s YouTube channel and even had a two part feature in the NFB’s Truth North basketball documentary series (I highly recommend you watch it if you haven’t already).

Fisher, standing at 6’6 is one of the most explosive athletes we’ve seen in Canada since the aforementioned Andrew Wiggins. Under the tutelage of Canadians hoops legend Ro Russell, Fisher quickly became an internet sensation when he started dunking at 12 years of age.

But make no mistake, Fisher is much more than just a dunker. Russell has been developing Fisher as a wing ever since he was young and you can really see the results. Fisher is fluid with the ball in his hands and is aggressive attacking the rim. He’s a beast in transition and can finish with both hands through some heavy contact (though he’s right hand dominant).

The jumpshot isn’t completely broken, though I would like to see Fisher become a better shooter and avoid the whole Barrett inefficiency fiasco. Though he sometimes gets tunnel vision, Fisher can make some excellent reads and throw some beautiful passes.

And the part I love most about Fisher is his killer mentality on the floor. You can tell he just has another level of intensity and competitiveness on the court. He compete hard on both ends of the floor and he plays hungry every game.

Come to think of it a lot of Fisher’s game resembles RJ Barrett’s game, just that Fisher is much more explosive and right hand dominant. The intensity and competitiveness on the court, the court vision, the tunnel vision at times and even the inconsistent jumpshot all mirror Barrett’s game. Like Barrett, Fisher’s been playing up against older guys his whole life and dominating. We’ll just have to wait and see how Fisher develops over the next few years. There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll be a great basketball player.

Some other names to look out for: Olivier-Maxence Prosper (NBA Academy Latin America, class of 2020), Joshua Primo (Royal Crown, class of 2021), Ryan Nembhard (Montverde Academy, class of 2021), Shaedon Sharpe (Sunrise Christian Academy, class of 2022), Enoch Boakye (George Harris Prep, class of 2022).

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