This past week saw some big announcements from Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph and Olu Ashaolu. What can't be lost is that this may be the tip of the preverbial Canadian basketball talent iceberg ...
So it’s been one hell of an eventful week and holiday weekend in Canadian basketball circles.
Not only was it announced that freshman forward Tristan Thompson was entering the NBA Draft but he was followed by Texas Longhorn teammate and long time friend Cory Joseph as well. On a less ballyhooed note, Toronto’s Olu Ashaolu had announced quietly that he was also going to be testing the Draft waters despite reports of him having paid, or going to pay visits, to D1 schools in the coming weeks where he may play his final college year of eligibility. Now all this news amounts to an unprecedented situation for us Canadian basketball fans: We have several top tier talents heading into an NBA Draft as underclassmen.
Now whether these three young men are better served staying another year, or years, on college is beside the point. The fact that these three have made a decision to enter a Draft early says something of the state of the players that we have developing at this stage of our basketball scene. And that statement is that we now have players that are able to play at the highest levels and this may only be the tip off the iceberg. I mean really, when was there serious talk of any Canadian being drafted since Jamaal Magliore?
If you have been keeping up with the Canadians in the NBA, there are only five amongst the 450 (give or take a couple) of players that dot the many team rosters. That amounts to 1.1%. For a country that has seen many great players go through the basketball ranks over the last decade alone, that seems a little paltry. These three have the opportunity to add to that pool of Canuck talent that is in the League for next year.
Now let’s not go on thinking that there hasn’t been any Canadian talent that was Draft eligible in the past. Since most of us have really seen the upswing in talent in the last decade or so, let’s keep the sample to since 2000. There have been several of our boys that had seen great success at the NCAA level, and let’s face it will be a long time before we have anyone from the CIS being called by an NBA commissioner in June, but they have not had the high profile as Cory, Tristan or even Olu. Arguably, Central Connecticut State’s Tristan Blackwood, Hawaii’s Carl English or Portland State’s Scott Morrison, for instance, could be viewed as great players having won major conference awards multiple years while being named to their schools respective record books for their career totals. But could they have been viewed as Draft prospects?
The short answer is not really.
Though they were all very, very good players in their times, the question of were they able to compete at the highest levels consistently I’m sure popped up. And I’m sure they all could have but that question is usually answered by lesser statistically dominant players playing on major teams in high end conferences. Being on a team like say a Kansas State will go a long way to convincing anyone that he has skills to hang with the best of the best even if he only averaged 5 points and 3 rebounds in 15 minutes a game.
With all that in mind, these three have very good resumes heading into the process. Olu, who was a top 10 high school player in the US at one point, played in a lesser conference than the Dynamic Duo did (the Western Athletic Conference for you who don’t know) but his stats alone this season at Louisiana Tech warrant serious consideration for at least a camp invite (14.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1 steals including a 24 point, 18 rebound game this season). The other two were major components for a team that made a good run into the NCAA Tournament before being upset by Arizona in the second round. Thompson averaged 13.1 points, 7.8 and 2.4 blocks while Joseph averaged 10.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3 assists, both starters for the Longhorns.
The best chance to get drafted will go to Thompson who showed what kind of player he was by winning Freshman of the Year as well as making the All Defensive Team and All Conference 2nd Team in the Big 12. He clearly is the guy with the most upside than Ashaolu or Joseph at this point and is projected to be a 16th pick by www.draftexpress.com. (Incidentally, Joseph is rated 78 in Draft Express’ top 100 Draft prospects while Ashaolu is not among them.) But regardless of whether he is or isn’t drafted, like the other two, we should rejoice in the fact that there are Canadian born players with this kind of cache to even evoke early draft hoopla.
There is still time for all three guys to return to school since none have hired an agent at this point. And in my opinion, with this draft being widely regarded as a weak draft class, it may be better for Thompson to stay in while the other two return for another year of seasoning. But whatever the case, let’s just be happy that there are Canucks that have come along to at least get the world talking about how far we have come along as a basketball community in a very short time.