Record number of Canadians in March Madness is part of an ongoing basketball success story
Canada has seen double digit numbers of its native basketball players participating in March Madness in recent years, a testament to the large pool of talent this side of the border.
53 such athletes are part of this year’s famous NCAA Division I men’s and women’s basketball championships, which Canada Basketball says is a record — despite the tournaments having had at least 50 Canadian participants for three consecutive years, including this year.
University of Connecticut forward Aaliyah Edwards from Kingston, Ontario is one such player, and she credits her success to her “big sisters” in Canada’s senior women’s national team, who have mentored her.
“A big thank you to them; just a big thank you to the Canadian basketball family,” she told CBC News, adding she hopes she can have a similar impact on the next generation of players.
“All these little girls aspiring to be in my position… [who] want to pick up a basketball and are passionate about it, just know that you can be successful if you focus on it and keep your family close.
CLOCK | Edwards on her Canadian support and inspiration:
“Canadians are here to stay”
Matt Slan, the founder and CEO of Slan Sports Management, said that number is unlikely to change much since Canada produces so many great players.
“Canadians are here to stay in terms of basketball,” said Slan, who recalls the days when it was difficult to get attention for players from this side of the border.
In his opinion, 50 Canadian players were involved in March Madness in 2022.
A year earlier, 25 men and 27 women competed in the tournaments, according to figures reported by Canada Basketball.
There were no March Madness games at all in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘Fairly consistent’ performances
Michael Meeks, deputy general manager of Canada Basketball’s men’s basketball division, says the number of March Madness players with Canadian roots has been “rather constant” over the past few years.
But it’s no surprise given the success of Canadian players who have been followed by the players who came up behind them.
“We’ve produced athletes of the highest caliber over the last 10 years,” Meeks said, citing the frequent selection of Canadians as first-round NBA draft picks as just one example of this continued and broader wave of success.
For Meeks, there are a number of factors contributing to this trend – including support for emerging players, access to greater competition as those players develop, and greater US awareness of Canada’s talent pool.
Both Meeks and Slan highlight the broader community of people helping to build the game in Canada and supporting the next generation of gamers.
“There are many Canadians doing a lot of good on and off the basketball court to support the movement as a whole,” Slan said.
March Madness’ vast landscape includes well over 100 US college teams. But despite the name of the tournament, the winners of the respective men’s and women’s championships will not be known until the beginning of April.
Slan points out that for players coming to the end of their college careers, the tournament takes precedence over what they will do next.
Some will end up in the NBA or WNBA, but others will find opportunities in other parts of the world.
“From Taiwan to Lebanon to Qatar, they all have pro basketball leagues,” Slan said, noting that it could also be the next step for some Canadian players.
Past Canadian Champions
Few Canadians have been part of NCAA championship teams.
Most recently, Alyssa Jerome was part of the Stanford team that won the 2021 women’s NCAA title. A few years earlier, Kia Nurse, who played for UConn, won back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016. a US-born player raised in Quebec won a title, also with UConn.
Canada Basketball identifies Mike Brkovich as the first Canadian member of a men’s team to win an NCAA title with Michigan State in 1979. Others include Jamaal Magloire, who played for the University of Kentucky in 1998; David Thomas, also with Michigan State, in 2000; Denham Brown with UConn in 2004; and Kyle Wiltjer in 2012 as part of a winning squad from Kentucky.