R.J. Barrett at Duke, Rui Hachimura at Gonzaga and Iggy Brazdeikis at Michigan all lead their respective Final Four-contending teams in scoring this season. There’s a lot more foreign flavor sprinkled throughout college basketball in 2018-19 — and it will keep getting stronger in the near future, especially from our neighbors to the north.
While Hachimura has the chance to be the first Japanese-born player to be drafted into the NBA soon, Barrett and Brazdeikis lead a Canadian invasion of sorts into the college game.
ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla, an expert on international prospects, said there were reportedly 130 Canadians on Division I basketball rosters this season, including NBA prospects such as Iowa State’s Lindell Wigginton, Virginia Tech’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Arizona State’s Luguentz Dort, Syracuse’s Oshae Brissett and Vanderbilt’s Simi Shittu.
“Canadian players are their own separate entity,” Fraschilla said. “Toronto has an exploding basketball culture. They’re producing as many players as any major city in the [U.S.]. It’s incredible. They’re more like an American city.”
Part of the basketball boom in Canada came from Steve Nash winning NBA MVP awards with the Phoenix Suns, but even more so from what has been referred to as the Vince Carter Effect. The former NBA Slam Dunk Contest champ and Toronto Raptors star was the league’s most entertaining player and a walking highlight-reel in the late 1990s and early 2000s, making the game of basketball more attractive to a generation of Canadians, including Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins.
Gophers point guard Marcus Carr, who is sitting out this season after transferring from Pittsburgh, has an older brother, Duane Notice, who grew up playing against Wiggins. They were both inspired by Carter’s time with the Raptors. Now Wiggins is doing it for others with the Wolves.
Wiggins was the first Canadian player to be the consensus No. 1 high school prospect entering college. Fellow Ontario native Anthony Bennett and Wiggins were the top picks in the NBA draft in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Barrett, a versatile 6-7 freshman from Toronto, has a chance to be selected in the top three in this summer’s draft if he leaves after this season.
“Andrew definitely paved the way for younger guys coming up right now,” Carr said. “You can really see the impact, because you can see the number of players in the NCAA really impacting the game on their respective teams and guys going on to the NBA as well. There’s definitely a basketball boom going on right now in Canada.”
Fraschilla said what separates Canadians from many foreign-born players in college is they often arrive in the U.S. earlier to attend prep schools. That way they can gain notoriety in recruiting circles and make an easier transition to college.
Prospects from Australia, Europe and elsewhere overseas are considering college hoops even more. (Aussie Ben Simmons was the Philadelphia 76ers’ No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft after coming to the U.S. for prep school and college.) It’s becoming difficult financially for international club teams to offer enough of a monetary incentive to stay overseas for at least a couple of years, as Pau Gasol and ex-Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio did in Spain.
The foreign talent flooding college basketball is not slowing down any time soon.
“They see college basketball as the better path to the NBA,” Fraschilla said. “That’s what’s happening overseas now. NBA has become so sexy to international kids because of the influx of international stars. They see college as a better way to get there.”
Marcus Fuller covers college basketball for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @Marcus_R_Fuller