Our favorite time of the year is finally here, ah yeah! With the official start to the NCAA season only mere hours away, I think it's time to unveil the Canadian players that we think you should keep a close eye on throughout the coming season ...
Some names you'll know, some names you'll think you know, some names you'll remember and other you will be scratching your head but it's all good. That is why we put this together for you! You may not agree with who we place in the categories, oh well it's our list. Feel free to debate them at the bottom. But one thing's for certain - this will be the most exiciting season for Canadian in the NCAA. Without further delay we present to you the Can Ball Report's NC-Double-Eh Preview ...
Most Outstanding Player - Kris Joseph, Syracuse
It should be painfully obvious why this particular Canadian is in this spot to most basketball observers but if it’s not, I’ll illuminate you. Last season, he was on a team that featured Wesley Johnson, the number four pick in this spring’s NBA Draft, and two seniors in Andy Rautins (who was a second round pick) and Arinze Onuaku who were the inside and outside targets. Joseph was the other guy. Now with the aforementioned three now gone from the Orange, Joseph is suddenly the focus. Joseph was the second leading scorer on the team last season and was voted Sixth Man of the Year in the Big East, both were no easy feats. Now, after showing flashes of talent, he will have this season to shine full time. With a new post player in Fab Melo to open up the outside and heady point guard Scoop Jardine feeding him on the wing and in transition, Kris should be able to step into the role Wesley Johnson vacated and he should do admirably. Joseph may not be the defender that Johnson was or as good a three point shooter but he will definitely improve on his 10 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.4 steals. And remember – Kris is still only a junior.
Honorable Mention – Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure – he’s the focus of the offense and defense for an improving Bonnies team.
Top Newcomer – Cory Joseph, Texas
What can we say about Cory Joseph? Here we have a player with as near complete a game that a freshman can have and he’s going to a team that will, for all intents and purposes, give him the reins (I know, Longhorn analogy) from day one. Very few guys can go to a team and immediately demand that they be given the ball and he is one of those players. Young Joseph, who was a top ten recruit by almost all the scouting services that matter, has the talent to back up the buzz he’s created for himself and with his team in need of someone with his particular skill set he will be given every opportunity to prove that he was worth the wait. Joseph can shoot, he’s a great passer, he’s great defender and he’s a leader. He possesses the total package of ability, talent and intangible skills that you would associate with future pro players, particularly those who get their names called out in June at Madison Square Garden. If it plays out how most college basketball pundits seem to draw it out, Joseph will be a first game starter and never look back on his way to the Big 12 All Rookie Team, if not one of the All Conference Teams. We think it should play out that way too he’s that good right now.
Honorable Mention: Tristan Thompson, Texas – really, if Cory doesn’t win it Tristan will.
Best Defender – Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure
Last season, he had improved some of his numbers since he became more of a focal point of the team offense so great for him. But if you’re a keen observer, you would have noticed that his block numbers were down almost a whole block per game. His overall steals were also down and his rebounding only improved by one more per game while his minutes were up about five. What up? Well, that is likely because the word it is out on Nicholson. As a rookie, he had another post player to work off of but last year he was THE man in the middle. Teams were well aware of who he was this time around and knew enough to stay away from his part of the court. So why is he the best defender? He’s long, quick and did we mention that he’s long. Andrew Nicholson is about as good a defender in the NCAA as you can find. He reminds me of a young David Robinson and can cover just about anyone from guards to forwards. I heard that he had put on some muscle weight this summer which should help against the true centers in the rugged Atlantic 10 but outside of that, Nicholson is still the best Canadian defender. Expect this preseason All A-10 Defensive Team pick to have a great shot at winning the Defensive Player of the Year.
Honorable Mention: Manny Arop, Gonzaga – Arop can, and has all last season, guard anything except a hurricane. Ask anyone in the WCC.
Best Situation – Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson, Texas
So here is the skinny on the Dynamic Duo in Burnt Orange country. One a very talented Texas Longhorn team last season, there was a big issue: no true point guard. Enter Cory Joseph. The current Horns lose Damion James and Dexter Pittman who accounted for 28 points, 16 rebounds and about 2 blocks per game last season. Enter Tristan Thompson.
Joseph will likely be the first option at the point this season because his playing making ability and defense should warrant that. It would free up the other guards, who were are not so pass first types, to roam free and jack from all over the floor. This would be better solution to converting potent scoring threats in to point guards and really, how can you not want Joseph to run the point for your running, trapping team? And did we tell you that Cory could also shoot the rock.
Thompson will also be in a spot where he will likely be able to contribute immediately. Not only is Tristan one of only two players on the roster over 6’7", he is probably the most talented of the frontcourt as well. He rebounds, he defends, and he blocks shots which the team lost with Pittman’s departure so at this point it seems like the spot on the roster may be Thompson’s to lose right now.
Honorable mention: Marc Trasolini, Santa Clara – he surprised people last season and with the previous season’s star player back, it should make his offense come that much easier as well as make defending better.
Worst Situation – Kris Joseph, Syracuse
This season, Kris may have a Tupac situation: all eyes on me. The departure of Wesley Johnson not only opened up a starting spot for Joseph but it also opened up a whole bunch of expectations too. The current expectation is that he is to fill in where Johnson left off which is a tough task for anyone. Even though there will be some talented players around him, Kris will likely be the focal point of the offense this season which means that teams will be looking to collapse on him early. On top of that, he is the most capable scorer on the Orange right now adding the burden of him likely having the offense funnel through him in the halfcourt when not sent into the post. Oh yeah, he plays in one of the toughest conferences in college basketball. Pressure has going to be on him from day one of the preseason workouts. Joseph’s game is likely better now that it was last season but just how much better is still up in the air. He oozes NBA talent but this is the year he’ll have to prove that he is ready to take a leading role for that potential to translate into a possible Lottery selection. Only one other player comes to mind in recent memory that went from sixth man to star on a Top 25 team and Mo Peterson led his team to the NCAA Championship. Kris should have the run of the team starting early but will he be able to showcase the player he can be while still keeping Syracuse in the hunt for college basketball’s last win in March?
Honorable Mention: Devoe Joseph, Minnesota – he came on late last season for the Gophers at the right time but now the guards that were supposed to leave aren’t which could cramp his playing time, a lot.
Most important to the team – Jared Mintz, Lafayette
Jared Mintz is a guy that will never dazzle you with a flashy play or a spectacular two handed dunk in traffic. He’s just not that kind of player. But don’t ever think that without him the Lafayette squad is better off. In an interview I did with his coach Fran O’Hanlan last season he said that the offense flows through Mintz and rightfully so. Jared is a great post player, he can shoot the rock and he can pass it too. Hence he led the team with his 14.1 points to go with his Patriot League leading 53.7 FG% and 87.3 FT% while chipping in 2.1 assists per game (which was second on team by the way). On defense Jared anchors the middle. Though not a big shot blocker, he plays excellent position D while usually guarding the biggest of the opposing frontcourt. Did I also mention that he’s the team’s leader on the floor and in the locker room as well? It’s safe to say that Mintz is the difference 19 wins or 19 losses.
Honorable mention: Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure – when the offense and defense revolves around you to a good degree, I’d say you’re pretty important.
Super Sleeper Pick – Hernst Laroche, New Mexico State
This will be the third year in a row that I’ll likely be talking about Montreal’s Hernst Laroche and it will likely be the third year that anyone not from the 514 or 438 area codes will look at me blankly. Laroche has been steadily running the point for the Aggies since he stepped on campus and has been earning big respect around the Western Athletic Conference. Often having to match up with the toughest opposing guard, who have included Louisiana Tech’s Kyle Gibson and current Trailblazer Armon Johnson, Laroche has proven to be a good defender. He doesn’t score a whole lot but he runs the offence and distributes the rock to the tune of 3.7 per while having an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.08. He also rebounds (3.2 rpg) while also picking the occasional pocket (1.4 spg) and help lead his team into the NCAA Tournament. Laroche will likely improve his stats and has a chance to lead the Aggies again to a WAC Championship on their way to the Big Dance this March. I just wonder if people will still be completely unaware who he is this time around.
Honorable Mention: Kyle Johnson, Long Island University – Kyle been doing his thing quietly for three years for the Blackbirds (11.8 pts, 5.2 rpg and 35.3 3PT FG%) and he still gets no respect from anyone.
Best Right Now – Cory Joseph, Texas
There should be no question that Cory is about as complete as you can get for a player coming into his freshman season of big time college basketball from this side of the 49th. He can handle the ball under pressure, he can pass well, he can shot the lights out and he can defend. He’s come from a team that played a national schedule and he’s shown he can run an offense and play big in the big game. Cory playing lots internationally in the last couple of years has only sweetened his skill set and really, what more does he need to do. Unless you out there have another definition of the term complete player please let me know.
Honorable Mention: Marvell Waithe, Arkansas – this guy has a fairly complete skill set and is physically mature coming in. All he needs is to get a few games under his belt.
Best Down the Road – Tristan Thompson, Texas
Tristan Thompson is a very god talent right now but he, like most big men, need a little time for their bodies to mature and their full skills to be realized. He is a good defender now with a developing offensive game. With a year or two of high level competition under his belt, he’ll turn into a monster and you’ll remember that we told you that he could become great. I’d hate to be trying to guard or score against him in 2012. It should be lights out for them.
Honorable Mention: Dwight Powell, Stanford – he just needs to get a little stronger and work on his post game and he’ll be a terror.
Due for a Breakout – Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga
Olynyk has been somewhat of a mystery deal in his first year as a Zag. He is a legit 7-footer with perimeter skills and he is very mobile also. With that in mind, he was a little stuck between positions as a freshman: not strong enough to defend the low block player consistently but not quite polished to play on the perimeter consistently either. Well, that will change thanks to a summer playing on the Senior National Team where he averaged 8.2 points and 2.8 boards while shooting 61.5% from the field (including 40% from three with limited looks) and 84.6% from the line. That also included rave reviews from the CB coaching staff and a mean streak. Using that performance against veteran pro players should be a good gauge of how he’ll play this season for Gonzaga. He had a breakout summer so it stands to reason that he’ll have a breakout year particularly since the Zags may be a little short on the bigs, Kelly should have plenty of floor time to prove it.
Honorable Mention: Junior Cadougan, Marquette – after an Achilles injury slowed what was going to be a big freshman season, Cadougan will likely explode onto the scene this year.
Redemption Time – Harouna Mutombo, Western Carolina
After his freshman season, there were some high expectations for Harouna last year. It was hard not to expect more when a player wins Southern Conference Rookie of the Year and makes the All SoCon Second Team. But it didn’t happen that way. Mutombo’s numbers dropped and he and seemed to be playing in and out of the starting lineup with inconsistent minutes. Well, he’s a junior now so the sophomore jinx is behind him. This will likely be a return to the old Harouna, if not a better one, for sure. People will likely have written him off which will probably work in his favor. He’s too dynamic a player who does everything his team needs to win to not be on the floor. He’ll probably start the year coming off the bench but can count him finishing in the starting lineup by conference time.
Honorable Mention: Jamie Vanderbeken, Iowa State – he was granted an extra year of eligibility because he got hurt early last season so this will be his time go out with a bang.
Don’t Call It a Comeback – Alex Johnson, Cal-Bakersfield
So after two seasons of starting in the Cal-Bakersfield backcourt, Johnson was all set to really blow up in his junior year when a preseason injury forced him to redshirt last season. Not quite the story he wanted to write for himself. After a year off he’s back now, 100% healthy and ready to lead the Roadrunners’ again at the point. He’s a great passer and defender and it will just be a question of if he’s back to his pre injury form. If he is then look out because he’s lightening quick and he can drop the J on you if you give him room. Whether or not he starts at the beginning of the season is still up in the air but he’ll likely be starting by mid season barring anything going catastrophically wrong. It’s too bad that his team is an independent because he’d have been an all conference performer for sure this year in our opinion.
Honorable Mention: Chretien Lukusa, Binghamton – there is no comeback here. Lukusa just needs to show that he’s more than a defender in his last season as a Bearcat on a depleted team.
Remember Me – Marvell Waithe, Arkansas
Does anyone remember Marvell Waithe? I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t since it’s been a little while since he’s been mentioned up here. He has had a long journey to where he is now that included a commitment to both Loyola-Chicago and Rutgers and a stop and Toronto’s first prep school before he headed south to Tallahassee Community College where he was named a Junior College All American. He is now a Division 1 player for the Razorbacks and he should be able to contribute immediately in the frontcourt thanks to his versatility and athleticism. Expect Marvell to show what he’s become as a player now likely etching his name and his game in people’s minds this time around.
Honorable Mention: Manny Arop, Gonzaga – Manny was playing really well late last season becoming the Bulldogs’ stopper. And then he fractured a bone in his foot before the conference tournament. People have short memories so he fits here. He just needs to show that he’s back to health and feels not effects of the fracture.
Diamond in the Rough – Olu Ashoalu, Louisiana Tech
It is almost comical that we are putting Olu Ashoalu in this category because really, he shouldn’t be. Olu is a good, scratch that, very good player. He just happened to have been playing with Magnum Rolle and Kyle Gibson, two All WAC Second Team/All Defensive Teamers last season. Both of them deeply overshadowed Ashoalu all of last season. They both got NBA looks this past summer with Rolle getting cut late by the Pacers. With all that said, there was little made of Olu during the season as the guy who led the team in rebounding or that he is really a wing player who’s been playing and defending the block this whole time. This season, a season which has him tabbed as a preseason All WAC selection, should be the one that puts the basketball world on notice that he was always there. He's just been waiting his turn.
Honorable Mention: Imad Qahwash, Central Arkansas – he’s not spectacular but he he’s been steady can run the point with the best of them.
The Fab Five:
Kris Joseph, Syracuse
Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure
Rob Sacre, Gonzaga
Cory Joseph, Texas,
Olu Ashoalu, Louisiana Tech
The Next Five:
Marc Trasolini, Santa Clara
Jared Mintz, Lafayette
Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga
Alex Johnson, Cal-Bakersfield
Tristan Thompson, Texas
Ten players to watch:
Manny Arop, Gonzaga
Kyle Johnson, Long Island University
Murphy Burnatowski, Maine
Devoe Joseph, Minnesota
Maurice Walker, Minnesota
Julian Clarke, Santa Clara
Francis-Cedric Martel, Richmond
Dwight Powell, Stanford
Melvin Ejim, Iowa State
Diego Kapelan, McNeese State