Canada: A Budding International Basketball Powerhouse

andrew-wiggins-nbaThroughout the history of international basketball competitions, Canada hasn’t exactly shined. While their American neighbors to the south have won 14 Olympic gold medals, Canada has managed just one – a sliver medal in the 1936 Olympics.

Now this isn’t to say that the Great White North has been the basketball world’s doormat. After all, they did produce 2-time NBA MVP Steve Nash along with role players like Todd MacCulloch and Samuel Dalembert. However, there just haven’t been enough talented players to bring Canada to any sort of international prominence.

But it looks like Canadians might soon have something to celebrate from a basketball perspective, based on several young players. For starters, Toronto lays claim to Andrew Wiggins, who’s the most coveted pro prospect since LeBron James. The 6’8″ small forward, who’s currently playing for West Virginia’s Huntington Prep, is the biggest reason why several teams wouldn’t mind tanking the 2013-2014 NBA season.

McDonalds All American Game- Powerade JamfestThe first thing that jumps out about Wiggins is his insane athleticism, which comes naturally when you consider his parents. Mitchell Wiggins was a former NBA player while Marita was an Olympic silver medalist. So it’s no wonder why the 18-year-old can sky over other players (44-inch vertical) and blow past his opponents with unparalleled quickness. Adding his excellent on-court skills into the equation, Wiggins is all but guaranteed to be the top pick when he finishes his freshman season at Kansas next year.

Of course, you can’t experience Olympic success without a team – especially when competing against the stacked Team USA. Luckily Wiggins has a nice future sidekick in Anthony Bennett, who recently became the first Canadian-born player to go number one overall in the NBA Draft.

Now it’s worth mentioning that Bennett was a surprise number one pick who’s not guaranteed stardom. However, the Cavaliers thought enough of the 6’7″ combo forward’s outside shooting, scoring ability and rebounding to take him with the top pick.

tristan-thompsonNext up is Bennett’s Cavaliers teammate, Tristan Thompson. These two players are a very interesting story because they grew up a mile away from each other in Toronto and went to the same US-based high school, Findlay Prep (Nevada), though not at the same time. In his second NBA season, Thompson put up very solid numbers after averaging 11.7 PPG and 9.4 RPG. The 6’8″ power forward will definitely give Team Canada a strong inside presence come Olympics time.

Another player who figures to star on the international stage is Boston Celtics rookie Kelly Olynyk. The British Columbia product starred for Gonzaga after posting averages of 17.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG and 1.1 BPG last year. The 7-footer also showed some outside touch after shooting 44% and 30% from the 3-point line in his two collegiate seasons.

kelly-olynykDespite questions about how his game would translate to the NBA, Olynyk has silenced the critics thus far with a very strong summer league performance. And if he keeps playing like this, he’ll no doubt have a good career in both the NBA and on the international stage.

Cory Joseph is one more Canadian who shows a lot of promise. The 6’3″ San Antonio Spurs guard improved quite a bit from his dismal rookie season to last year’s NBA Finals run. He averaged 4.5 PPG, 1.9 APG and shot 85.7% from the free-throw line in his second year.

There’s definitely plenty of reason to get excited about Canadian basketball in the future. Sure the Olympics are three years away, but the FIBA Basketball World Cup is coming up in 2014. Canada has never won a medal in this competition, which takes place every four years. But based on all of the young talent that the Great White North has coming up through the ranks, they’re certainly ready to challenge current powerhouses like the United States, Argentina, Greece and Spain next year.