GLENDALE, ARIZ. – You can trace part of Oregon’s path to becoming a Final Four program back to when it built a Canadian pipeline.
Star Dillon Brooks and starting guard Dylan Ennis are both from Ontario. Although he was lost for the season because of a knee injury before the NCAA tournament run, shot-blocking sensation Chris Boucher is from Montreal.
“I think Canada is really starting to get a lot more recruiting action,” said Oregon coach Dana Altman, whose team plays Saturday against North Carolina. “We’re running into a lot more schools up there than we previously have.”
The Canadian connection first started in Altman’s second season in Eugene, Ore. Former Gophers guard Devoe Joseph and Olu Ashaolu were the first of seven Canadian players the Ducks would have on their roster during a six-year period.
Ducks assistant Tony Stubblefield remembers landing Joseph, a player who really showed others from his country they could have success at Oregon. Joseph, once the No. 1 high school senior in Canada, played his first three seasons at Minnesota, but he transferred to the Ducks in 2011.
The older brother of Toronto Raptors guard Cory Joseph led Oregon with 16.7 points per game and earned All-Pac 12 honors as a senior in 2012.
“Devoe was the first Canadian we had that gave Oregon a chance,” Stubblefield said. “It all started with Devoe. We owe a lot to him. He was great to coach, great young man and a great player for us. I know he helped to open doors in the Toronto area for us, because of his experience and the success he had at Oregon.”
Brooks is now the best Canadian to play for the Ducks. The 6-7 junior forward averaged 16 points and earned second-team All-America honors this season.
“I was the first one here, and I told them how great it is,” Brooks said of his three Canadian teammates. “They decided to join, and we are having great success.”
South Carolina senior Sindarius Thornwell woke up Friday feeling completely different from the day before, when he missed practice because of a fever and headache.
“I am fine now,” he said. “Everything is going good.”
Thornwell, who is averaging 21.6 points this season, is the biggest reason why the Gamecocks won their first NCAA tournament game in 40 years this season and kept rolling. The 6-7 guard doesn’t believe his team is a Cinderella story, though. He believes South Carolina will have the mental edge Saturday over No. 1 seed Gonzaga. Both are in their first Final Four.
“Nobody wants to lose,” the SEC Player of the Year said. “But I think Gonzaga is really nervous right now.”