TORONTO - Canadians have suited up for the NCAA tournament in the past.
A few have even been impact players.
But this year is different. From the total — a record 20 — to the number of Canadians who are key performers for their squads, as a country, we haven’t seen anything like this.
The West’s No. 4 seed, Texas, has two freshman Canadian starters, Tristan Thompson of Brampton and Cory Joseph of Pickering.
Thompson is one of five finalists for national freshman of the year, a defensive standout who has averaged 13.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in his first year of NCAA competition.
With his long arms, intensity and athleticism, Thompson has been bandied about as a potential NBA lottery pick this summer and has been the main reason why Texas’ defence has given so many opponents problems.
Joseph is a heady defender and a deadly outside shooter who put up averages of 10.5 points and 3.0 assists.
Despite hitting a few bumps, Texas has been one of the better teams for much of the second half of the season and has a shot at doing major damage, though taking out defending champion Duke in the Sweet 16 would be an awfully tough challenge.
Syracuse, a No. 3 seed starts Montreal’s Kris Joseph at small forward. Joseph did not quite reach the heights expected of him after replacing high NBA draft pick Wes Johnson, but has turned it on lately, going off in the Big East tourney for some eye-popping totals.
Joseph can disrupt a game defensively, hit shots and find open teammates (5.3 assists per game in the Big East tourney). These will likely be his final games with the Orange, as the NBA beckons.
Gonzaga has three Canadians, but 7-foot B.C. natives Robert Sacre (Vancouver) and Kelly Olynyk (Kamloops) will be leaned on far more heavily than Edmonton’s Manny Arop.
Sacre, a junior who also has NBA potential, is knocked for his unimpressive rebounding totals, but he blocks about two shots a game and converts easily from the low post. Gonzaga, an 11-seed will be in tough against No. 6 St. John’s, but Sacre can be a difference-maker while Olynyk showed this summer while playing for Canada that he can be a major factor as well. If the pair steps up, Gonzaga can get through.
Far less heralded is sharpshooter Bryson Johnson, born in Pictou, N.S., but raised in Waterloo. Johnson has been one of the best shooters in the NCAA, connecting on 45.9% of his outside shots.
Toronto will be represented by point guard Junior Cadougan — the former Eastern Commerce star who has admirably battled back from major surgery to become a 4.0 assist a night threat of late for Marquette whether starting or coming off of the bench.
Other Torontonian‚s include Juevol Myles of Kansas State, Tramar Sutherland of Arkansas-Little Rock and Kadeem Green, a redshirt at Missouri.
Long Island, which unfortunately is up against stellar North Carolina, features Ontarians Kyle Johnson, Arnold Mayorga and redshirt Troy Joseph, as well as Robinson Odoch-Opong of Quebec City. Guelph’s Jon House plays for Belmont, while Hamilton’s Dwayne Harvey toils for Alabama State.
As well as Kris Joseph, Montrealers can root for Francis-Cedric Martel of Richmond and Jean Selus, while Ottawa is represented by Arkansas-Little Rock’s Eric Kibi.
The odds say none of these Canadians will reach the late stages, but there are upsets every year and some of the Canucks could be major factors before March Madness is all said and done.