Mat MacDonald AKA The Rook The Rook is currently enrolled in Human Kinetics at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. A frequent contributor to all NBA and Raptors debates along with other sports. Witty, quick and never afraid of a challenge, Mat's here to talk hoops with you and dish out his two cents whenever!
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In what may go down as one of the most improbable Final Four brackets in NCAA history, this yearʼs version of March Madness has completely lived up to the name.
If your name is Sherman Hamilton, or youʼre living in the Richmond area, then yes, you expected this to happen - why wouldnʼt you? And if youʼre a fan of child-looking coaching staffs and repeat Cinderella performances, then again, you expected this.
Iʼd be lying to you if I didnʼt think Shaka Smart wasnʼt a politician the first time I heard his name dropped. Iʼd also be lying to you if I told you that of course I knew UCONN would win five straight games just to make it into the tournament and Kemba Walker would increase his draft stock like a Pamela Anderson boob job.
But I didnʼt.
Without a doubt, this may be some of the best basketball ever seen in the month of March. With nearly every game coming down to the final three minutes, fans have been on the edge of their seats constantly.
And how great it is!
In a year where the NBA is focused on superhero teams and lockout discussions, finally we get a look at players who arenʼt playing for the big money - right now - but for the love of the game, their family, and their respected schools.
While all of these great stories have created drama on the big stage, itʼs time to take a look at the Canadians who showed up and represented for their country. After Marquetteʼs loss to UNC, the final Canadian was knocked out of the tournament, so without further ado hereʼs to you, Cana-ballers.
Junior Cadougan: Junior had a solid year at Marquette coming off a knee injury. While he only averaged four points per game and played limited minutes, it was his energy that helped Marquette make it to the Sweet 16. Against West Virginia, Cadougan was huge scoring 15 points and dishing out five assists.
As the tournament went on, his play only got stronger. In a losing effort Cadougan was able to have another double-digit scoring effort with 10 points while handing out another five assists. With one healthy season under his belt, the skyʼs the limit for the stud out of Toronto.
Bryson Johnson: Perhaps one of the most unknown Canadians in the tournament, Johnson had the tough task of matching up in the first round with the streaking UCONN Huskies and Kemba Walker. Johnson, a perimeter player out of Pictou, Nova Scotia, was huge for Bucknell as they won their conference title and secured their spot in the big boy bracket.
Johnson finished the season 10th in three-point shots made (99), and in the top-50 in three point percentage shooting a blistering 46 percent. In just his second season, Johnson took his game to new levels and proved that even though heʼs from a town smaller than your local grocery store employee list, hard work pays off.
Kyle Johnson: We caught up with Kyle before his first round matchup with UNC, and you could smell the excitement coming off him. Kyleʼs put in more work than a lot of people and itʼs paid off big time. Representing for Long Island University, Kyle lead his team to an SEC-Title and played solid all season long.
Averaging 10 points per game, Johnson was able to lead the Blackbirds to their best season in recent history. Now after finishing the tournament, heʼll focus on training to participate with the British national team this summer. Joining Kyle on the Blackbirds are fellow Canadians Arnold Mayorga, Robinson Odoch Opong and Troy Joseph.
Kris Joseph: Montrealʼs own Kris Joseph had another stellar season for the Syracuse Orangemen and looked to be on his way deep into the national tournament. Unfortunately, rankings donʼt mean everything. The third year star averaged 14.3 points per game on the season and had a stellar tournament.
In his final game agains the aforementioned Cadougan and Marquette, Joseph finished with 12 points and nine rebounds. Josephʼs draft stock is high in the NBA right now, but with one more year left on his college career and unfinished business, donʼt be surprised to see him back for one more season.
Of course, there were two groups of Canadians representing two schools in the NCAA. When you think Canada, you usually either think of Texas or Gonzaga. Who doesnʼt know the names Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson by now? Who hasnʼt heard Robert Sacreʼs name for the past ten years?
Gonzagaʼs connection: The trio of Mangisto Arop, Kelly Olynyk and Robert Sacre have been nothing but a blessing for Gonzaga and itʼs program. An always stellar program, the Zags have been able to continue their winning tradition with talent north of the border. Since his days of provincial team ball, Sacreʼs name has been linked to the NBA. After going through injuries early in his college career, one more season looks like it may put the big man back on the NBA map.
Kelly Olynyk, the sharp shooting seven foot big man out of Kamloops is another name to pay attention to. His ability to create off the dribble and shoot from deep makes him a threat against any team. And finally, Manny Arop the Edmonton native continues to bring his athletic game into the Gonzaga backcourt. With the core staying together, another year of Gonzaga basketball can only scare the rest of the field.
Texas: Joseph seems to be a trending name in College basketball. We had Kris Joseph in Syracuse, Devoe Joseph for Oregon, and now his brother Cory playing for Texas. Perhaps one of the best guards in the country, Joseph proved that heʼs not only focused on becoming the best at the point in college, but hopefully one day in the NBA. On the year Joseph averaged a quiet ten points, but it wasnʼt so much his numbers as it was his leadership and ability to be a floor general that made him so valuable to Texas. The addition of Myck Kobongo next season into the Longhorn backcourt automatically makes Texas a title threat.
Along side Joseph is long-time friend and teammate Tristan Thompson.
Thompson had arguably the best season of his career at any level averaging 13.1 points per game along with seven rebounds and a huge showing in the NCAA Tournament. As a freshman, Thompson turned heads and proved that even though he was young his skill was seasoned. Thompson had some monster games this season including a huge double-double effort against Kansas St. with 26 points and 10 rebounds. On the season, the Brampton native finished with ten double-doubles. Currently heʼs undecided if heʼll return to college or pursue his NBA dream. Regardless, the futureʼs bright for the young freshman.
Of course, these arenʼt the only Canadians who have ever made or will make the tournament, but itʼs great to see the game developing and expanding across North America.
Keep your eyes on these kids because one day you may too be paying to watch them play.