• Carl Berman

Neighbors to the North are Crashing College Scene

Traditionally, Canada has been known more for hockey than for basketball. While that still is the case, Canada is a country that college-basketball coaches are looking at more seriously for potential recruits. Our latest count shows 91 Canadian players on NCAA Division I rosters. Among them are players who are making a major impact thus far in the 2012–13 season. Anthony Bennett (UNLV), Dwight Powell (Stanford), Kevin Pangos and Kelly Olynyk (Gonzaga), Nik Stauskas (Michigan), Melvin Ejim (Iowa State), Brady Heslip (Baylor), Jordan Bachynski (Arizona State) and Justin Edwards (Maine) are on the top of our list for their performance thus far.

The 6-foot-8, 240-pound Bennett has probably made the biggest immediate impact of any first-year player. He has helped bring UNLV back to national relevance. The Rebels were hurt by Mike Moser's dislocated elbow, which might keep him out for an extended period of time. However, they still ranked in the top 25, and with the anticipated eligibility of a fellow Canadian, 6-9 Pitt transfer Khem Birch, Bennett will have additional help up front. Birch will step in to play center as Bennett shifts to his true power forward position. Through the first month of the season, Bennett was averaging 20.3 points and 8.9 rebounds and shooting 57 percent from the floor. He can score outside and has the strength and skill to score off the dribble as well as inside. In one two-game stretch, he averaged 26 points and 13.5 rebounds.

The 6-10 Dwight Powell has come into his own after a disappointing sophomore season to give some hope to Stanford. The Cardinal, coming off an early season loss at home to Belmont, is starting to play better and hopes to be a contender in the Pac-12. Powell has more than doubled his 5.8 ppg average from last year, averaging 14.2 points and 6.9 rebounds, and had a 29-point effort against Denver.

Pangos and Olynyk have led Gonzaga to a great start, with their only early blemish a home loss to a tough Illinois squad. Pangos, a 6-2 sophomore who starts at point guard for the Zags, is averaging more than 10 ppg and dishing out 3.7 assists in about 30 minutes of action. Pangos’ shot has been a bit streaky this season, and he needs to shoot it more consistently to get the Zags deep into the NCAA tournament. The 7-0 Olynyk is the most improved Zag. After redshirting last season, the 240-pound junior has come back stronger and with a much better offensive game. He can score inside and out (14.1 ppg) and now has the muscle to be solid off the boards (7.1 rpg). He was added to the starting lineup and averaged 19 points and 7.5 rebounds against Illinois and Washington State while shooting over 70 percent from the field. Olynyk will be an important contributor for the Zags, and, combined with Prezem Karnowski, a 7-2, 305-pound freshman center from Poland, will give the team a one-two punch inside that not many teams can counter.

The 6-6 Stauskas has been a revelation from the start of the year for highly-ranked Michigan. He was averaging 13.5 ppg on 58.7 percent 3-point shooting and over 89 percent from the charity stripe. Stauskas scored 20 points in a win against No. 18 North Carolina State and led a win over Bradley with 22. With Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, the Wolverines have two of the more productive freshmen in the country.

Ejim has been a steadying influence for Iowa State. The Cyclones are looking to make a mark in the Big 12 with the addition of transfers Will Clyburn and Kory Luscious. Ejim, a 6-6 junior, is one of the most productive rebounders in the nation (9.1 rpg in 22.9 mpg) and is scoring at a 10.0 ppg clip.

Heslip brings outside shooting to the Baylor Bears' attack and is generally deadly against zone defenses. He was averaging a little more than 10 ppg. His 3-point shooting percentage had dropped off about 10 percent from last season (45 percent to 35 percent), but look for Heslip to regain his touch soon. He scored 29 points and canned eight 3-pointers in a 97-78 win over St. John’s.

The 7-2 Bachynski, a junior, has been a surprise for an improved Arizona State team. He has been solid in the middle for the Sun Devils (10.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg), but where Bachynski really effects the game is on defense. He was second in the nation to Jeff Withy in blocks with 5.2 per game and registered a triple-double—13 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocked shots—against Cal State-Northridge.

The 6-3 Edwards has been a solid contributor since arriving in Oromo, Maine, and last season. He was leading Maine in scoring at 16.3 ppg and also contributed 5.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists per contest. He needs to become a more consistent shooter from long range (currently just 20 percent), but that will likely come in time. Edwards scored a season-high 30 points in a win against Northeastern while shooting 11 of 12 from the field.

Several freshmen from Canada have also been playing well. Olivier Hanlon (6-4, Boston College) started at point guard immediately. He was averaging 13.8 ppg and was 15 for 19 from the charity stripe in a win against Penn State. Stefan Jankovic (6-11) has started to get some time for a strong Missouri squad. In a recent contest against Tennessee State, the Canadian scored 14 points in 16 minutes. Look for him to get more time as the season progresses.

The 2013 class is headed by the top recruit, Canadian Andrew Wiggins. The 6-7 Wiggins is deciding whether to spend his one year in college at Kentucky or at his father's alma mater, Florida State. After that, he should be the No. 1 choice in the 2014 NBA draft. Other Canadians in the ESPN Top 100 for 2013 include 6-3 PG Xavier Rathan-Mayes (Florida State) and 6-2 PG Tyler Ennis (Syracuse).