If you haven’t completed a bracket yet, consider this one of your final warnings. This is not a drill. After a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the March Madness men’s NCAA basketball tournament is back.
Of even more interest to those of us north of the border: This year’s tourney features 25 Canadian players, and more than a few who could find themselves playing well into things.
Without further adieu, here are nine standout Canadians to watch as things tip off this Friday:
Andrew Nembhard, G
If you’re a follower of Canadian international hoops, the name Andrew Nembhard will be eminently familiar to you. A contemporary of R.J. Barrett, Nembhard got some ahead-of-schedule reps with Canada’s senior team back when the pair were 18, and earned plaudits both for steady play and the occasional highlight:
And while Nembhard didn’t end up on the sure-thing route to pro stardom that Barrett did, he has had a solid collegiate career to date. After two years in Florida (and as many flirtations with the NBA draft), Nembhard transferred to Gonzaga this year and is enjoying his most team success to date. The Zags are ranked No. 1 in the country on the back of an active 26-game win streak heading into the Big Dance, and will need Nembhard’s steady play off the bench to get the “One Shining Moment” that has long eluded the program.
Chris Duarte, G
Born in Montreal, 23-year-old Chris Duarte is the Canadian most likely to have his name called in the upcoming NBA Draft, and he’s reached that status through a winding, unique path.
Duarte was raised in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, before moving to New York for his final two years of high school. He then starred for two years at Northwest Florida State College, becoming an NJCAA Division 1 All-American, before transferring to Oregon for the pandemic-shortened 2019–20 campaign. This season, the six-foot-six guard has put up averages of 16.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.8 blocks while shooting 52 per cent from the floor and 43 per cent from three-point land.
Could he follow current Toronto Raptor Chris Boucher’s path — Montreal roots to small-college success to a transfer to Oregon — all the way to the NBA? A big tourney performance for him and his Ducks team would go a long way to making that happen.
Eugene Omoruyi, F
Does anyone actually start their career at Oregon as a freshman? (Don’t look that up. I’m sure it’s never happened.) Another late-arriving Duck, Eugene Omoruyi played three years at Rutgers before transferring and sitting out the 2019–20 season as per NCAA rules. Now a redshirt senior, Omoruyi put up 16.7 points per game while significantly upping his three-point attempts and efficiency en route to joining teammate Duarte on the All Pac-12 Team.
Joshua Primo, G
SEC All-Freshman Team selection Joshua Primo was originally slated to be part of the 2021 high school class, but reclassified in February last year to graduate in 2020. So far this season, he has proven ready for the moment on a stacked Alabama team.
Playing 22.6 minutes per game, Primo is averaging 8.1 points and 3.4 rebounds, and joined the starting lineup mid-season. He’s currently day-to-day with a knee injury, but coach Nate Oats sounds confident Primo can return at some point during the Tournament (also note the confidence about how far they’re going, which you want in a No. 2 seed):
Bonus Can Con: Alabama boasts two players from north of the border. Though he has played sparingly in his freshman season, Toronto native Keon Ambrose-Hylton looks to be a big part of the Crimson Tide’s future.