NCAA tournament gets northern exposure
by Lindsay H. Jones, USA TODAY Sports
SALT LAKE CITY — We may as well consider Salt Lake City to be Canada South this weekend.
Saturday’s two third-round games here feature three Canadian starters (Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk and Kevin Pangos, and Harvard’s Laurent Rivard) and two reserves (Wichita State’s Chadrack Lufile and Nick Wiggins).
For all five, their shared tournament success has been a source of national pride.
“It’s really cool,” Pangos said. “When you’re from Canada you sort of know, somehow, every other Canadian. It’s like one big family.”
Indeed, Pangos has been roommates with Wiggins’ younger brother, Andrew, during national team events and played against Rivard in youth tournaments. Lufile remembered meeting Olynyk through common trainers.
Lufile and Wiggins took different routes to Wichita State, with Lufile staying at home in Ontario for high school and then starting his American education at a junior college. Wiggins left his family in Toronto to go to a prep school in north Florida, then went to a junior college before transferring to Wichita State.
Andrew Wiggins is doing the American prep school route, too, and is ranked by ESPN as the No. 1 high school recruit.
“Coaches started believing, and kids started believing they could make it, and they could play basketball over here, at a Division I school, and play in the NCAA tournament,” Nick Wiggins said.
Canadian sports television network TSN, which traveled to Salt Lake City to cover these games, reported that 28 Canadians were in the tournament.
Gonzaga assistant coach Tommy Lloyd has been recruiting in Canada for years and said he’s recently found a much more fertile talent base to the north. It’s the result, Lloyd said, of a generation of Canadian players who have grown up since the NBA established franchises north of the American border.
“With the NBA teams came youth programs and all that, so to me, when the NBA started up there it gave kids more opportunities to play basketball and watch basketball,” Lloyd said. “Different opportunities that weren’t there for the previous generation.”
Gonzaga is seeing the benefits of Pangos’ and Olynyk’s national team experience, as well. They went to a camp last summer … [For more on Oh, Canada! NCAA tournament gets northern exposure, click here.]