Canada has regained a place of prominence in the NBA draft. After only two Canadians were taken a year ago and the country was blanked in the 2020 draft entirely, a couple of lottery picks emerged Thursday to make up for it.
Bennedict Mathurin of Montreal was drafted sixth overall by the Indiana Pacers and London’s Shaedon Sharpe went seventh to the Portland Trail Blazers, the first time Canadians have gone back-to-back in an NBA draft.
The two could not have taken more divergent paths to the NBA.
Mathurin, a six-foot-six small forward, left Arizona after a sophomore season in which he was the Pac-12 player of the year and a second-team all-American. He had spent two years as the first Canadian to attend the NBA Academy Latin America in Mexico City.
The 20-year-old is an explosive athlete and a gifted scorer, averaging 17.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game while shooting 45 per cent from the field and 37 per cent from three-point range with the Wildcats.
He becomes the highest drafted player from Montreal and joins a group from there that includes Chris Boucher, Luguentz Dort, Khem Birch and Joel Anthony.
“One guy I’m really excited to play against is Luguentz Dort,” Mathurin said at the draft in New York. “We’re from the same neighbourhood. I used to see him, call him my big bro. Now we’re at the next level, so it’s about time for me to show him who’s really the big bro. Looking forward to playing against him.”
Sharpe didn’t play a single minute of college basketball after committing to Kentucky but backing out of the start of the 2021-22 season. The last legitimate competitive basketball he played was as the top-ranked high schooler in the 2020-21 season,
There is no question that Sharpe joins the Blazers full of lofty career goals.
“I see myself being one of the greatest players to ever play the game of basketball, just getting after it and competing,” he said in a virtual media availability before the draft. “One of my goals is to win rookie of the year, and also all-star and, later on, Hall of Fame.”
He was seen as something of an X-factor in the draft given his lack of competition but he ended up going where most pretend drafts had him.
“I really had no clue, honestly,” he told reporters in New York after he was selected. “I mean, when I found out where I was going, it was the same time you guys found out. I really just soaked in everything and just had fun with it.”
Andrew Wiggins (No. 1, Cleveland) and Nik Stauskas (No, 8, Sacramento) were the last two Canadians taken in the same 14-pick lottery, in 2014. The only other time two other Canadians were in the lottery group was 2013, Anthony Bennett (No. 1, Cleveland) and Kelly Olynyk (No. 13, Dallas).
Two other Canadians went back to back to open Thursday’s second round. Aurora’s Andrew Nembhard went 31st to Indiana and Caleb Houstan of Mississauga went 32nd to Orlando.
“Dream come true,” Nembhard said at a dinner for family and friends at a Yorkville restaurant.
It was the highest four Canadians had gone since 2019: RJ Barrett (No. 3, New York), Nickeil Walker-Alexander (No. 17, Brooklyn), Brandon Clarke (No. 21, Oklahoma City) and Mfiondu Kabegale (No. 27, Brooklyn) were selected.
There were an all-time high six Canadians taken in that 2019 draft — Iggy Brazdeikis (No. 47, Sacramento) and Marial Shayok (No. 54) filled out the group.
Josh Primo, a lottery pick at No. 12 to San Antonio, Dalano Banton, No. 46 to the Raptors were the only Canadians taken a year ago.
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