GTA hoopsters in NCAA holding own

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:31 AM ET

There are no Jamaal Magloire or Denham Brown clones putting the Greater Toronto Area on the NCAA men's basketball map this season.

When it comes to Canadians playing Division I, talk usually begins outside this city as players such as Vancouver's Levon Kendall (Pittsburgh), Montreal's Maurice Joseph (Michigan State) and Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes (Gonzaga) are in the spotlight.

"Right now, everybody (from Toronto) is sort of just there," said Wayne Dawkins, a long time fixture in Toronto's club and high school circuit and a coach at West Hill. "They're not doing poorly or embarrassing us, but they're not dominating like they did in high school."

Dawkins thinks Toronto's best basketball prospects in the near future are currently in Grade 10 or 11. He recently spoke with Toronto-born, Michigan Wolverines forward Jevohn Shepherd, who hasn't put up huge numbers, about how to have the youngsters best prepared for the jump to the next level.

Some of Toronto's top high school players from last season, including Laurier's Marvell Waithe, couldn't secure scholarships this season because of a change in academic requirements.

Despite all this, there are a number of local players to keep an eye on. UCLA's Ryan Wright (Loyola, Mississauga) is fighting for minutes on the top-ranked team in the NCAA, a Bruins squad that went to the U.S. national final last season. Mississauga guard Antwi Atuahene is averaging about seven points at Arizona State and Andy Rautins, son of national team coach Leo, is in the rotation at Syracuse.

Most of the area's players who are putting up big numbers are enrolled in mid-major-like programs. However, that doesn't mean they can't make headlines, such as Montreal's Juan Mendez did at Niagara a couple of years ago when he became Canada's leading NCAA scorer and actually was mentioned in Raptors draft speculation.

Vladimir Kuljanin is the leading scorer at UNC-Wilmington; Jamie McNeilly is a double-digit scorer at New Orleans; and Eastern Commerce grad Tristan Blackwood is having a fine season at Central Connecticut State. Meanwhile, key senior Kevin Massiah joins freshman Kaylan Anderson on a Wisconsin-Milwaukee team that went to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Speaking of the NCAA tournament, March Madness returns close to these parts this year as Buffalo's HSBC Arena will play host to first- and second-round games. The Final Four is in Atlanta.


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