Starting a Canadian invasion?
The two highest Canadian NBA Draft selections ever have been made by the Cavaliers. Thursday night, Anthony Bennett became the first to go No. 1 overall.
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In a way, that’s purely coincidence.
In another, though, it’s all part of the plan.
Canada doesn’t have a ton of basketball tradition, but in guys like Bennett, Tristan Thompson and 2014 top-pick candidate Andrew Wiggins, it’s had some very talented basketball exports. This run of NBA Draft picks that began with the Cavaliers selecting Thompson at No. 4 in 2011 comes a few years after these talented Canadians started coming to America as teenagers to seek out better coaching and competition and to chase their NBA dreams.
The selection of Bennett — who only took up basketball in middle school — proves they’re on a fast track.
“It’s crazy,” Bennett said. “It’s on the rise (in Canada).”
Thompson and Bennett both played in the Ontario-based CIA Bounce AAU program and both played high school basketball for Findlay Prep in Nevada before becoming Cavaliers. Wiggins is on a nine-month layover at Kansas after playing the last two years at Huntington (WV) Prep and giving up his senior year of high school. His arrival immediately made the Jayhawks a top-five team for next season.
Before Thompson, Steve Nash at No. 15 in 1996 was the highest Canadian NBA Draft selection ever. Fellow Canadian Kelly Olynyk went 13th Thursday night to the Boston Celtics. Three Canadians were chosen in last year’s draft.
There are varied reasons for this sudden Canadian invasion into America’s game. The Toronto Raptors joined the NBA in 1995, two years after Bennett was born. There’s been a population shift in Canada, with foreigners moving in who didn’t grow up with hockey. Bennett’s mom, for example, is Jamaican.
Guys as athletically gifted as Bennett, Thompson and Wiggins are finding their way to the game of basketball. Then, these talented Canadian players are leaving home at 15 or 16 to chase a path to the pros. Period. They come to basketball-factory high schools in the United States and go to top college programs, playing for coaches who have experience sending players to the NBA after a year or two.
“Everybody wants to support their family,” Bennett said. “I feel like the next couple years, Canadian players will be blowing up.”
The Cavaliers have known for a year they’d have another high draft pick, and they’ve known for a month they’d have No. 1 overall. They determined that Bennett was the top available talent — and they’ve had plenty of time to watch him.
He’s been on the AAU circuit in the United States since starting high school and also attended the LeBron James Skills Academy in 2010, in addition to playing on the Under-16 and Under-17 Canadian national teams. After his senior year at Findlay Prep he played in the McDonald’s All-American, Jordan Brand and Hoop Summit all-star games.
In one year at UNLV, he led the Rebels in scoring at 16.1 points per game, shooting 53 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from the line. Now, he takes his skills to the game’s biggest stage — and knows he could become the first of two straight Canadians to be drafted No. 1.
“I made history, and I can’t complain about that,” Bennett said. “This is a long-time dream I’ve had since I started playing basketball, even though it was just six or seven years ago. It’s just crazy. Next year with (Wiggins), hopefully he does well at Kansas. I’m rooting for him. I’m pretty sure he’ll get that No. 1 spot.”