Dylan Ennis has a prediction:
“This is going to be a long shot, but I think in a few years, Canada will be competing with the U.S.A. in Olympic basketball,” the Oregon guard said last week during the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional.
“If Canada could get everybody to play who’s supposed to play — I know, sometimes people have different obligations, or injuries — but if we had the best team we could put together, I think next Olympics [in 2020], we could definitely compete,” he said.
Forgive Ennis if he is biased.
Sure, he is a 25-year-old graduate student, granted a rare sixth season of eligibility because of injury and playing for his third American college after Rice and Villanova. (Long story.)
But after all this time, talking to him reveals he is True North all the way, pronouncing “against” the Canadian way, a marker of his youth in Brampton, Ontario.
That Canadian team in 2020 might include his brother Tyler, currently a Laker, or players such as Tristan Thompson of the Cavaliers and Andrew Wiggins of the Timberwolves.
But the reality is that the Canadian men have not made the Olympic field since 2000. For the moment, the country’s basketball fans might be better served looking to Ennis and Oregon to root for in the Final Four.
That is because en route to its best NCAA showing since 1939, the Ducks have relied heavily on Canadian talent, as they have in the recent past and will continue to do in the near future.
Forward Dillon Brooks, who is from Mississauga, Ontario, was the Pac-12 Player of the Year. Center Chris Boucher, who is from Montreal, was third on the team in scoring and second in rebounding when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Pac-12 Tournament.
The trio totaled 61 points in a victory over Colorado on Senior Day on Feb. 18, when “O Canada” was played pregame in their honor.
Oregon has had four other Canadians, all from the Toronto area, this decade. Abu Kigab, who grew up primarily in Ontario, is among the incoming recruits for next season.
“Up north, they’ve been great to us,” coach Dana Altman said, adding that targeting eastern Canada for recruiting has been by design. “For our program, it’s been unbelievable. These guys have come in and really enabled us to get consistency and get some tradition started.”
Word-of-mouth helped, starting with Torontonians Olu Ashaolu and Devoe Joseph, who played through 2012.
Players credit assistant coach Mike Mennenga, whose recruiting roots in Canada date to long ago on the staffs at Maine and Buffalo, for keeping the Canadian pipeline open.
“It was easy for me to just come here and feel like I was at home, with those guys helping me out,” Boucher said.
Said Ennis: “It’s great to have the Canadian connection, because you talk to people back home and they say that Oregon is Canada’s team . . . So it’s great to represent Oregon, but also as Canada’s team.”
Canadians in basketball are nothing new, of course. One of them, James Naismith, invented the game. Steve Nash was a two-time NBA MVP. Anthony Bennett and Wiggins were back-to-back No. 1 overall draft picks.
South Carolina, another 2017 Final Four team, has one as its third-leading scorer in Duane Notice.
“Growing up in Canada, I’ve seen all the players; I’ve played against all of them,” Ennis said. “Tristan Thompson was in the gym with me at 7 o’clock working out. I’ve played against Cory Joseph [of the Raptors] since I was the age of 6.
“We’ve always had talent; I just don’t think we had the recognition that everybody had down here. But everybody realizes it now.”
If Canada can overtake the United States in basketball, as Ennis anticipates, might the United States be able to do the same to Canada in hockey?
“Oh, no, we’ve got hockey,” he said with a laugh. “You have to give that to us. We’ve got hockey.”
At Glendale, Arizona
Ch. 2, 6:09 p.m.
vs. North Carolina
Ch. 2, 8:49 p.m.