Denham Brown, UConn and a new generation of Canadian Basketball

Four years ago Texas Longhorn teammates Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson became the first duo of Canadians to be taken in the first round of the NBA Draft in almost 30 years. Two years later, the Cleveland Cavaliers made Anthony Bennett the first Canadian-born player to be drafted No. 1 overall. And last year, Andrew Wiggins and the Cavaliers made it two in a row. But before all of this, there was Jim Calhoun, Denham Brown and the 111 point game.

Jason Decrow/AP

Jason Decrow/AP

Mike Segar/Reuters

Mike Segar/Reuters

Contrary to public belief, Steve Nash is not solely responsible for the resurrection of Canadian basketball. No, that title must be shared with Toronto native Denham Brown with a little help from the foresighted recruitment efforts of Jim Calhoun and the UConn Huskies.

The above video is part of the Toronto Raptors #MyNorth marketing campaign which aims to highlight the history of the basketball scene in the Greater Toronto Area. There is no better place to start than Denham Brown. Though his 111 points came in a seemingly meaningless game (school had already been disqualified from the playoffs), the true impact was anything but meaningless for the Canadian basketball landscape. Brown was one of the first Canadian’s who followed the typical trajectory of an American recruit, frequently participating in AAU tournaments in the United States. Brown’s play caught the attention of UConn Head Coach Jim Calhoun, who chartered a plane north of the border to see the Canadian stud work out at a local Community Centre.

UConn’s Role

Jim Calhoun and the UConn Huskies were already ahead of the curve when it came to recruiting international talent. Said Calhoun in 2012, “When I first came here in 1986, we couldn’t compete (in recruiting) because we had five consecutive losing seasons. We were competing with the Villanovas, the St. Johns, the Georgetowns, the Syracuses… we needed to expand the parameters where UConn recruited.” Jim Calhoun is no dummy. He knew he was not in the running for top East Coast talent and took his search overseas. In fact, since 1999, UConn has had 12 foreign players on scholarship- from Israel to Tanzania (notable examples below). That’s more than traditional powerhouses North Carolina (2), Duke (4), UCLA (5), Michigan State (4) and Kentucky (4) according to numbers from 2012. As a competitor, Calhoun wanted the best talent- regardless of country. Little did he know one particular signing would open the door to a new wave of basketball talent for years to come.

Israel

Doron Sheffer

Canada

Denham Brown

Germany

Niels Giffey

UK

Ajou Deng

Tanzania

Hasheem Thabeet

Bob Child/AP

Bob Child/AP

Emergence of Canada’s other sport

Canadian players lacked exposure and Brown, largely considered the top recruit in the country, brought that exposure. His performance, though controversial in Canada, was featured in American publication SLAM Magazine, unprecedented at the time for a Canadian hoopster. Brown was one of the first true Toronto basketball success stories, a kid who was able to parlay his AAU showcases into a Division One scholarship into a National Championship. Now, it is much easier for this new wave of Canadian talent to find homes in the United States because NCAA programs are willing to look North of the border. Even Findlay Prep, a high school basketball powerhouse in Las Vegas, has taken on Canadian players such as Thompson, Bennett and Joseph in recent years. “Take a guy like Denham,” says Mike George, agent for Bennett. “He’s been playing against Americans here and there, but he doesn’t really do it on a full-time basis. Now, Anthony and Tristan Thompson and some of these guys have been playing against American high-level competition from September to September. They’ve gotten used to it…”

Roy Rana, head coach of the Canadian under-18 national team, adds: “People started investigating. People started to get more motivated to figure it out. How do I get a kid in a major school? How can I help a young man get a Division One scholarship? I think it was really the result of some people deciding to take teams of young Canadians, mostly Toronto basketball players, into the United States and explore that system, and learn and grow from that system, and use it here.” For this system to work you need a relateable success story- Denham Brown- and a program who is willing to take a chance- UConn.

basketball.ca

basketball.ca

According to Canada Basketball, the country’s organizing body for the sport, participation rates among children in Canada have doubled since 2005, or, one year after Brown’s National Championship with UConn. Today, over 100 Canadians play NCAA Division One basketball, including the #7 overall player in the class of 2014, Kentucky’s Trey Lyles. Says Andrew Wiggins, “They really opened doors for younger people watching, for us to grow up and believe we can do the same they have done. Tristan, Cory, Denham Brown, Phil Dixon, Steve Nash, Jamaal Magloire, guys like that, they have really paved the way for young guys like me and even younger guys who are coming.”

Pioneer of the new movement

The recent retirement of Steve Nash has drawn many to credit the probable Hall-of-Famer with the resurrection of Canadian basketball. Not to take anything away from Mr. Nash but Denham Brown stakes just as much claim to that title. First, Nash was raised outside of Vancouver, roughly 2,100 miles (or 3,392 km) from the Greater Toronto Area where much of the talent has originated (Wiggins, Bennett, Joseph, Thompson among others). Second, Nash’s journey was a remarkably different story from many of the Greater Toronto Area hoopsters. Here is an excerpt from Brian Daly’s Canada’s Other Game: Basketball from Naismith to Nash, depicting Nash’s childhood.

“It was December of 1990, and the sun had just set behind the mountains overlooking picturesque Victoria, British Columbia, leaving only a single spotlight to illuminate a hoop in the schoolyard of Hillcrest Elementary School in the town of Saanich, a north end suburb of the B.C. capital. Large and medium-sized detached homes lay nestled among an eclectic array of trees and bushes in the Gordon Head neighbourhood, with well-kept gardens displayed year-round in Canada’s only snow-free capital region. Less than a kilometre away, waterside mansions and rugged shoreline gave way to the sparkling blue waters of the Haro Strait, a great whale-watching area separating southern Vancouver Island from adjacent islands off the west coast of Washington State.”

Nash grew up on soccer, hockey and rugby and worshipped the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks. When Nash initially struggled in high school his parents were able to send him to St. Michaels, a private boarding school only 30 miles from the border of the United States.

Getty Images

Getty Images

On the opposite coast, Denham Brown was raised in the Lawrence Heights neighborhood of Toronto, home to the city’s first public housing project. When his high school closed following junior year, Brown transferred to a public school in the Eastern Toronto district of Scarborough or “Scarlem” as coined by the Canadian magazine Toronto Life. Years later, Minnesota Timerbwolves forward Anthony Bennett and his family would relocate to the nearby Jane and Finch neighborhood, a community known for one of the largest concentrations of criminal gangs in all of Canada. At the same time Andrew Wiggins, Cory Joseph and Tyler Ennis (Phoenix Suns via Syracuse) were all growing up in diverse neighborhoods surrounding Greater Toronto, worshipping then-star Vince Carter and the Toronto Raptors. In an interview with USA Today, Canadian Nik Stauskas (Sacramento Kings via Michigan) comments: “There was Steve Nash, but he didn’t really have that path of going to prep school in America. We paved the way for the Canadians trying to make that move. There’s always a new guy coming up and let’s hope they take the same path.” Though Brown did not attend prep school in the United States, he put Toronto on the map, making it possible for Stauskas and others.

I could never downplay the impact Steve Nash has made on the perception of Canadian basketball but I am simply unconvinced a young Anthony Bennett relates to the story of Steve Nash more so than Denham Brown. Assuming Nash was the sole inspiration behind this new wave of Canadian basketball ignores important factors such as geography and privilege. Brown’s high school coach Marv Spencer puts it best at the end of the My North campaign video:

“He (Denham) laid the foundation for the American sports industry to understand that there is talent here. Wiggins and the young guys that are making it now, I admire them, I love what they are doing but we are talking about the pioneer of the whole new movement. Denham Brown is the pioneer of the new movement and when the young guys get a chance to see him, salute the King.”

Lasting impact 

According to slamonline.com, there are now close to 50 men and 20 women playing Division One basketball from the Greater Toronto Area. As a UConn fan, Denham Brown’s contribution to the 2004 National Championship team is remembered in points and rebounds but his contribution to his country is immeasureable. Ultimately, whether through Steve Nash or Denham Brown, the most important storyline is that Canadian players have finally gained the exposure they deserve and that is what matters most.

Huskies Abroad: Niels Giffey and Deandre Daniels

Niels Giffey

Club: ALBA Berlin

Location: Berlin, Germany

Leagues: Basketball Bundesliga (BBL), EuroLeague

Two-time National Champion Niels Giffey signed with ALBA Berlin in his native Germany for the 2014-15 season. Giffey, who had played with the clubs junior division before UConn, joins a senior team considered to be the most successful German basketball team internationally and domestically. In fact, on October 8th, 2014 ALBA defeated the San Antonio Spurs in a preseason game 94-93. ALBA competes in both the Basketball Bundesliga (BBL) as well as the Euroleague (NBA). The BBL, composed of 18 teams, is the highest level of professional club basketball in Germany. The top 8 teams qualify for the playoffs, which are in a best-of-five format.

euroleague.net

euroleague.net

In addition to the BBL title, all BBL teams compete for the German Cup. The German Cup opens the playing field to the top three domestic leagues in Germany in a single elimination tournament. ALBA Berlin has won the past two German Cups and a total of eight since the tournament changed formats in 1997. This season, ALBA sits atop the BBL standings with a perfect record of 12-0.  ALBA also participates in the Euroleague entering Round 9 play at fourth in Group B with a record of 3-5. Remember, only the top four teams from each Group will advance to the round of 16. ALBA can punch their ticket tomorrow with a win over  #6 Limoges (France) and a #5 Zagreb (Croatia) loss. Here are Giffey’s statistics on the year:

BBL G MIN FG-FGA FG% 3PM-A 3P% REB AS PTS EFF
N. Giffey 12 17.7 19-41 46% 13-30 43% 2.3 0.6 7.2 4.5
EURO G MIN FG-FGA FG% 3PM-A 3P% REB AS PTS EFF
N. Giffey 8 16.4 14-24 58% 11-20 55%* 1.6 0.5 7.6 5.3

*#7 in Euroleague

Giffey shoots over Tim Duncan of the Spurs

Giffey shoots over Tim Duncan of the Spurs

Deandre Daniels

Club: Perth Wildcats

Location: Perth, Australia

League: National Basketball League (NBL)

wildcats.com.au

wildcats.com.au

The Toronto Raptors selected Deandre Daniels with the 37th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft and subsequently shipped him down under to suit up for the Perth Wildcats of the NBL. The NBL features eight teams, seven from Australia and one from New Zealand with Perth as the lone representative from Western Australia.  The Wildcats are the most storied franchise in NBL history with a record six championships and a playoff streak of 28 years dating back to 1987. Initially perceived as a demotion, Daniels is actually following in the exact footsteps of James Ennis, Perth’s All-NBL selection from a year ago. Ennis, drafted 50th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft, was sent to Perth by the Miami Heat to further develop. After leading Perth to a championship, he signed with the Heat where he’s averaging 14 minutes a game. Ennis is playing so well, he was recently featured by Bleacher Report.

Here is Perth Managing Director Nick Marvin and Daniels discussing his role in the upcoming season:

This season, Daniels has teamed up with Jermaine Beal (Vanderbilt) and Earnest Ross (Missouri) to lead Perth atop the NBL standings at the halfway point of the season. The top four teams at the end of the season will advance to a best-of-three Final Four which culminates in a best-of-three Championship. Adding to his outstanding end of the year with the Huskies, Daniels is second on the team in scoring and third in the NBL in rebounding at 7.5 per game. Full statistics can be found below:

NBL G MIN FG-FGA FG% 3PM-A 3P% REB BS PTS EFF
D. Daniels 12 28.4 49-109 45% 13-46 28% 7.5 1.6 14.3 10.8

Here are some highlights from Daniels last outing, a 20 point/8 rebound effort in a win over the Wollongong Hawks. The first 1:30 is dominated by Daniels.

Perth plays its home games in the 14,846 seat Perth Arena. To put that in perspective, Gampel seats roughly 10,160, the XL Center 16,290 and Giffey plays in the 17,000 seat 02 Arena in Berlin.

wildcats.com.au

wildcats.com.au

Deandre Daniels undergoes successful surgery

wildcats.com

wildcats.com

Former National Champion Deandre Daniels has undergone surgery to remove a small bone fragment in his right elbow, according to the Perth Wildcats website. Daniels, taken with the 37th overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft by the Toronto Raptors, will compete with the Wildcats of the Australian National Basketball League (NBL) this upcoming season. The rehab process will take 4-6 weeks and Daniels hopes to be ready for the team’s October 10th season opener against New Zealand. All indications lead to a successful surgery:

Daniels will play a key role for Perth as they attempt to defend their NBL title.

 

Deandre Daniels Officially Heading to Europe

Getty Images

Getty Images

The Toronto Raptors have come to terms with former Celtics 2013 first round pick Lucas Nogueira. Great news for Nogueira, bad news for Deandre Daniels. The Nogueira signing fills the Raptors roster, confirming rumors Daniels will be shipped overseas next season- though the Raptors will keep his rights. The team is currently in the process of finding the best fit for Daniels overseas, presumably a situation where he can get minutes immediately and continue to develop. More to come…

2014 Las Vegas Summer League Recap

Summer League

The  Sacramento Kings won the 2014 Las Vegas Summer League earlier this week, featuring newly acquired Alex Oriahki at the center position (sneak peak into celebration below). Oriahki was just one of a slew of former Huskies participating in Vegas this summer. Others included Deandre Daniels (Toronto Raptors), Jerome Dyson (Charlotte Hornets), Niels Giffey (Utah Jazz), Shabazz Napier (Miami Heat) and Roscoe Smith (Los Angeles Lakers). Here are the complete statistics from Vegas:

Player

G

GS MPG FG% 3P% RPG APG SPG TO

PPG

Daniels

5 5 21.4 .36 .26 6.2 .2 .4 1.8

10

Dyson

4 0 16.8 .22 .22 1.3 1.3 0.0 2.8 3.8

Giffey

5 0 12.2 .25 .17 1.8 .6 .6 .6 3.4

Napier

4 4 27 .28 .250 1.3 2.8 2.5 3.5

10.3

Oriahki 4 4 12.5 .40 0.0 3.0 .5 0.0 1.5

2.8

Smith 5 0 12.8 .56 0.0 2.2 0.0 0.0 .4

5.0

 

Deandre Daniels

Getty Images

Getty Images

Out of all UCONN players in the two summer leagues, it is safe to say Deandre Daniels was the most consistent. Starting all five games at small forward for the Raptors, Daniels contributed UCONN-esque numbers of 10 points/6 rebounds per game. In a July 18th win versus the LA Clippers, Daniels registered a double-double with 15 points and 14 rebounds. Although roughly half of Daniels field goal attempts were from deep, he led the team in rebounding, proving he is not content to just hover on the perimeter but ready to mix it up in the middle. Already leading the team in rebounding, when he packs muscle onto his scrawny frame, Daniels will be a force. It has been rumored he will play this upcoming season overseas which will give him time to mature before returning to the Raptors next season.

Jerome Dyson

July 10th Jerome Dyson signed with Dinamo Sassari of the Italian Series A League, according to Sportando. The same release stated Dyson had an NBA out in his contract until July 23, allowing him to sign with a NBA team if his performance in the summer league won him a roster spot. Unfortunately for Dyson, he was stuck behind first-round pick PJ Hairston on the depth chart and averaged only 4 points in 17 minutes of play. Dyson will return to Italy next season teaming up with former Louisville guard Edgar Sosa and BC/Fairfield transfer Rakim Sanders. The club is a newcomer to the Euroleague (European NBA) and hopes to boost their championship aspirations with the addition of Dyson who averaged 17 points/4 rebounds with Enel Brindisi (Italian Series A) a season ago.

Niels Giffey

Following two summer leagues where he struggled to find playing time, Niels Giffey has signed in Germany.

Shabazz Napier

Player G GS MPG FG% 3P% RPG APG SPG TO PPG
Napier (LVSL) 4 4 27 .28 .250 1.3 2.8 2.5 3.5 10.3
Napier (OSL) 5 5 27.6 .273 .154 3.0 4.6 1.8 4.8 9.2

Here is a comparison of Napier’s statistics from the OSL to the LVSL. In Vegas, Napier shot the ball better (it couldn’t have gotten much worse) and his turnovers were down, but he averaged only 2.8 assists per game, third on the Heat. As I wrote earlier, I am not worried by Napier’s struggles. The learning curve is much sharper for a point guard and especially in a summer league setting with players hailing from all over the world and little time to practice offensive sets. Another point to consider: Napier finalized his contract at the end of the summer league. With this final distraction off his mind it will be all basketball from now until training camp.

Alex Oriahki

AO Kings Gear

AO’s Kings Gear

July 12th the Sacramento Kings acquired the draft rights to Oriahki in exchange for guard Isaiah Thomas. Oriahki was drafted by the Suns in the second round of the 2013 NBA Draft but the Suns’ talented front court forced him to begin the season overseas. Oriahki started 4 games for the Kings in Vegas, averaging 3 points, 3 rebounds and 1 block per contest. This block against Cameron Bairstow and the Chicago Bulls made it to nba.com’s summer league highlights. This season, Oriahki faces another uphill battle to make a Kings roster featuring  veterans Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins, Reggie Evans and Jason Thompson. If he is unable to make the Kings roster this year, Oriahki will return overseas or play another year with a D League affiliate.

Roscoe Smith

Undrafted in the 2014 NBA Draft, Smith earned an invite to play with the Lakers in Vegas. Scoe averaged 5 points and 2 rebounds in 13 minutes per game, playing with his typical high energy and intensity. Smith is a long shot to make a NBA roster this season and will most likely play overseas.

 

Sacramento Kings Championship Celebration via Snap Chat:

Kings Celebrate Championship

The Sacramento Kings celebrate their championship