Every year in NCAA mens basketball, there are Canadians that become major names in college hoops. This year, the freshmen are in position to fill big roles and build their value towards the NBA Draft. We discussed 2018 HS class being the strongest class ever, but the Canadian Class of 2017 was no slouch.
This season Canadian freshman, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a top ranked prospect from the 2017 graduating class, has an opportunity to get to the NBA after his freshman campaign at Kentucky, along with other sure shot picks in Wildcats, Kevin Knox, Hamidou, Diallo, Nick Richards, Jarred Vanderbilt and others.
The days of college level players going one and done isn’t just an episode, rather it has become a natural process for the upper echelon prospects that excel after one season.
Based off of our projections and conversations with NBA decision makers, it seems likely that not only will the names above have major impact seasons for their respective teams; there’s also a probability they enter this year’s NBA Draft depending on how their freshman year plays out. Some may be multiple year players—the one and done will require an exceptional frosh season, combined with the adequate exposure.
The names might not be on draft boards yet, but this is typical as Canadians are usually looked over based on demographics. Take Maryland’s Canadian Sophomore Justin Jackson, who we expect to be drafted this season, is nowhere to be found on some mock drafts.
The Canadian names below are of freshmen that we believe will have ultra-successful starts to their collegiate careers.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker – Virginia Tech PG
Alexander-Walker (Virginia Tech) was number one overall in the NPH Canadian 2017 graduating class. He got there by displaying one of the best scoring packages on either side of the border. He can rock with the best of them.
Being an absolute gym rat, coaches at Virginia Tech have actually had to pull him out and urge him to rest on many occasions. There’s a distinct crazed obsession within his training. He is truly chasing greatness; he analyzes film, is very serious about his nutrition, post workout recovery and all the fine details in between.
Alexander-Walker’s ability to create offense for himself and teammates, at his size and length make him one of college basketball’s best combo guards. He will be looked on to be one of the top producers for VT this season.
With nearly a 6’9 wingspan, the potential of being a lock down defender adds to his player stock.
His ambidexterity keeps defenders guessing which way he’s going to blow by, and this season, he will have NBA personnel intrigued and guessing what kind of NBA player he can become.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Kentucky – PG
When a high profile Canadian chooses Kentucky it means that they are likely headed to the NBA within one or two seasons.
For Jamal Murray it was one and done, for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander it could mean the same.
During the summer he was exposed to playing with and against pros in his opportunity with the Canadian mens National Team.
At 6’6 he is a full fledged point guard with a lanky 6’10 wingspan. Gilgeous-Alexander is very adaptive to style of play and manipulating the defense is something he does well when switching speeds.
Near the end of his final high school season at Hamilton Heights, he was beginning to use his length effectively on defense. His ceiling in this regard is high since he’ll be able to guard different positions.
Although he doesn’t have the clout like some of his five star teammates, Kentucky fans are about to find out real quick who Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is and what he can provide. His biggest attribute? His mind. Composed, never too high, never too low—the trait of an elite floor general.
At SEC Media Day, Kentucky Coach John Calipari mentioned that Gilgeous-Alexander has an opportunity to take the starting position over Quade Green.
Emmanuel Akot – Arizona – SF/SG
Lots of intrigue surrounding Emmanuel Akot since we first laid eyes on his game in his home town of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Now at Arizona, he is receiving a lot of attention from the NBA, since scouts are in there pretty regularly considering the Wildcats have multiple NBA prospects, Akot being one of them.
He is expected to be a regular piece in the rotation at Arizona and earn his way into significant minutes on the floor by mid-season.
Akot encapsulates the next level body, mind and skill set. He’s dynamic in his offense and can defend multiple positions. His man strength has been activated and the ability to finish through contact while going above the rim is impressive.
The most underrated part in Akot’s game is his passing ability while on the move.
Long term, the guard/forward role is where he’ll end up as a pro. To put his package into perspective, Dwayne Bacon of the Charlotte Hornets, could be looked as a NBA player comparison.
Abu Kigab – Oregon – SG/SF
Abu Kigab was a big part of Canada’s World Championship at the U19 level. He averaged 14.6 ppg, 10.6 rbp and 2.3 apg, while walking away with a gold medal and earned himself title of tournament All-Star.
Kigab enters Oregon with an elevated state of mind and more confidence then he already had with this championship added to his pedigree. He’s the type of player that will take that moment and work to relive it on the next stage in his career. That mindset will be needed as this Ducks team is young and will look to have some shoes filled in since the departure of a few leaguers’ move on to the NBA, including Canadian rookie Dillon Brooks, Jordan Bell, Chris Boucher.
The Brooks comparison has been made on many occasions, in part due to the fact that the two play with their heart on their sleeves and the other part because as freshman, they came in very strong and physically prepared for the NCAA level.
However, they differ in many ways because, Kigab is a significantly better three point shooter and overall scorer than Brooks was as a freshman.
While evaluating and tracking Kigab’s progress over the last few years, its very difficult to remember a single game where we could say he had a “bad game.”
If he’s not scoring, he rebounding, if he’s not doing that he’s locking up on multiple positions. Then you tie in the high level intangibles; tenaciousness, spongy, attentive, relentless competitiveness, all that is a formula for another NBA bound player from Canada to Oregon to the League.
Oshae Brissett – Syracuse – Forward
Since ninth grade Oshae Brissett has had a super multi-faceted skill set. There’s a few distinct memories throughout his high school career and on the AAU circuit where Brissett played positions two through four.
At the college level he’ll be required to do the fine tuning to get ready to help Syracuse make a serious push against ACC competition.
With an improved shot from distance, he has made himself a threat from everywhere on the floor. You can’t give him open looks, he’ll make teams pay. This really opens up the floor for Syracuse and creates more gaps for him to attack.
At 210 lbs he’s light and quick off the first step. The long strides can get Brissett to the rim in 1-2 dribbles from the three point line.
Another immediate impact Canadian at the NCAA level.
Christian David – Butler – Guard
Some may have fallen off the Christian David bandwagon…its the wrong time to do that.
An injury can sometimes leave players in a funk. Yet, David battled back and is ready to produce at Butler.
In many ways David is thought of as a centerpiece for Butler’s future. Having graduated key pieces, there is space to come in and produce with his minutes.
The playing time is out there for him. He’ll likely end the season playing at least 20 minutes a game.
Efficiency is a key quality in David’s game. He doesn’t have to be scoring to be effective. He makes the most of his minutes by producing in different categories.
Lindell Wigginton – Iowa State – Point Guard
If there is any pressure surrounding the fact that Iowa State graduated arguably their best point guard in program history, in Monte Morris–Lindell Wigginton is in to replace him.
In his third year as head coach, Steve Prohm is entrusting that Wigginton has what the Cyclones need to remain strong at the point guard position.
“I just want him to max out on Lindell Wigginton. And if does that, he could do some really good things, Coach Prohm told the media almost two weeks ago.
Wigginton is physically one of the most impressive freshmen coming into college. His physique is shredded and his athleticism is special. You’ll never see him attack the rim with intention to lay it in, he’s an above the rim finisher that has that wow factor.
While playing at Oak Hill, due to the number of guards on the team, most of America never got to see him as a full time PG, meanwhile we know he has that capability to both get buckets, and set the table at a high level.
He operates really well from the triple threat position and is able to get to his spots for mid-range pull ups or all the way to the cup.
His defense is perhaps one of his strongest suits and will translate immediately to the college level. Wigginton is a top two way player from the Canadian 2017 class.
This U19 World Champion has big shoes to fill with Monte Morris gone and is up for the challenge.
Danilo Djuricic – Harvard – Forward
If we look at the success of the National team at the cadet and junior men’s levels over the last few years, Danilo Djuricic has been a very significant part to attaining the program’s prosperity.
Take a look at his career at St. Michael’s and you’ll see a mirroring affect. He won multiple provincial high school championships before completing his career and again in this case, could not have been done without him; the coaching staff and teammates will be the first to back this.
He’s a proven winner, and his winning habits transitioning to Harvard are going to lead to more individual success at the start of his collegiate career.
Needless to say, if you’re attending Harvard you have to be pretty intelligent. Djuricic is book smart and has a high IQ on the court. He is able to pick up on new concepts very quickly and retain information, meaning he’ll be earning enough minutes as a freshman to do what he does best, make threes and rebound the ball.
Marcus Carr – Pittsburgh – Point Guard
Pitt’s point man Marcus Carr will be getting buckets and being the leader on a new roster at Pitt. He carries the intangibles that get teammates on the same page. He’s loud and vocal, with a delivery that teammates can respect.
There’s this controlled rage that we’ve always valued in his game. He brings a level of intensity and extreme focus.
Out of all the Canadian guys listed, Carr has the cleanest slate ready for him to draw up his college basketball legacy, in terms of playing time and need at the position.
Mentally and physically, he’s one of the toughest prospects we’ve come across over years of scouting. Carr has added something new to his game every year. His improvement from the three point makes him a perimeter threat and he’s crafty in setting up others off the dribble.
Now, there will be some Canadian freshmen not mentioned above that are listed below and will have strong first year campaigns. The guys below are not being counted out.
Yet the names above either are, or will be on NBA radars.
Players that we believe can break out as freshman in their respective conferences—Shamiel Stevenson (Pittsburgh), Therren Shelton-Szmidt (Middle Tennessee), Josip Vrankic (Santa Clara) Gabriel Osabuohein (Arkansas) Stefan Smith (Vermont)
Full Canadian NCAA Freshmen List
Nickeil Alexander-Walker – Virginia Tech
Shai Gilegous-Alexander – Kentucky
Emmanuel Akot – Arizona
Abu Kigab – Oregon
Christian David – Butler
Oshae Brissett – Syracuse
Lindell Wigginton – Iowa State
Danilo Djuricic – Harvard
Marcus Carr – Pittsburgh
Shamiel Stevenson – Pittsburgh
Therren Shelton-Szmidt – Middle Tennessee
Josip Vrankic – Santa Clara
Gabriel Osabuohein – Arkansas
Nathan Cayo – Richmond
Shakwon Barrett – Tulane
Anthony Longpre – St. Joseph’s
Howard Washington – Syracuse
Stefan Smith – Vermont
Ivan Cucak – Austin Pea
Scott Hitchon – Canisius
Cordell Veira – Florida International
Jahvon Blair – Georgetown
Aaryn Rai – Dartmouth
James Karnick – Siena
Tyler Plummer – Wagner
Sina Gbadebo – Akron