St. Catharines, Canada: After the first day of the preliminary round at the FIBA U18 America’s Championships a hastily worded media advisory was circulated to all accredited media. It cautioned media that “player only” areas within the Meridian Center in St. Catharines had been infiltrated by media and scouts. Given that the scouts outnumbered the media one can only conclude that the perpetrators were not representing the fourth estate. Extra security was posted and tunnels were closed off to give tournament players and coaches some breathing room. 63 scouts had registered for the event with 34 representing American schools and 29 from the NBA.
College coaches, expert recruiters of young basketball talent, came draped in their own irony. They were nattily attired in logo infested ball caps, polos, tack suits and other colorful clothing items that invades the landscapes of most campuses. Coaches and Assistant Coaches could be seen scattered in clusters throughout the 5,000 seat arena. There was nothing subtle about their presence yet their availability for media requests drew a code of silence. Hall of Famers inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame mixed in with future Hall of Famers. Behind the baseline games were taking on the life of an exclusive country club while battling an endless list of NCAA do’s and don’ts. Recruiters were walking billboards advertising one of America’s biggest one sided sporting debates. “Is college basketball a business?”
For Marist College Assistant Coach Serge Clement the tournament was an opportunity for him to stop in to see the progress of Red Foxes new recruit Matthew Harasme. The slick guard was representing the talent rich but underachieving Dominicans. Harasme, a 6’3” New York City kid, had recently signed a letter of intent with Marist. It was the hope of Coach Clement that the infusion of talented players like Harasme would resurrect the Red Foxes basketball program, a D1 outfit that occupied the cellar of the MAAC (Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) last season. Clement had his eyes wide open describing the talent pool at the FIBA event as being “tremendous.” You could sense he was there to see one recruit but could easily have been smitten by others.
“We are looking for anyone who can help Marist get to the next level in terms of play, so it could be a guard or a big,” announced Clement.
But interaction between scouts and players is limited by NCAA rules. In their senior year of eligibility high school players can only be contacted a maximum of seven times by recruiters.A friendly nod from afar while dressed in logo emblazoned clothes doesn’t seem to count. Using a friendly journalist to get the message across to a player may be a strategy worthy of detouring the NCAA rule book. Even meeting up in a hallway away from prying eyes to plant a seed with a player is a sound tactical maneuver. Much like a sharp backdoor cut.
For University of South Carolina Head Coach Frank Martin the tournament gave him the opportunity to watch two high level USC recruits participating against each other in the international arena. Martin, who was dressed head to toe in Gamecocks’ gear stood out like an oversized garnet and black cheerleader. Even patrons in the private boxes near the rafters knew that USC was in the house. New Gamecock Alanzo Frink of the Dominican Republic and American International Josiah James are the centerpieces of Martin’s 2018 recruiting class. Frink, a mountain of a man at 6’7” in height and weighing 260 pounds is a tough post player with a daft outside shot to appease requirements of the modern game. Basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla described the Dominican big man as: “a classic wide body, he’s a human Humvee but stronger.” American James shone bright throughout the tournament proving his worth as a relentless defender and slicing offensive threat.
While some Assistant Coaches appeared to be taking copious notes others seemed satisfied with the banter among their brethren. For them to share an opinion outside their tried and tested circles or give a hypothetical opinion was a lesson in futility. One Big 10 Assistant Coach even proclaimed that: “I’m not sure if I’m really supposed to be here.” But he was certainly fixated on Minnesota native Matthew Hurt on Team USA who’s older brother is a Golden Gopher.
But for Michigan coach John Beilein (3.37 Million salary annually) and Cincinnati Bearcat Head Coach Mick Cronin ($2.2 million salary annually) their larger than life presence was felt despite NCAA officials circulating among the masses. It didn’t stop the two coaches from making a mad dash to the scorer’s table and press row to ask for a donation of box scores.
University of Kansas Head Coach Bill Self , who took on the dual role of American headmaster during this competition, was able to test drive his two new recruits before they are exposed to the iconic pressure cooker known as the Phog Allen Fieldhouse.
Giovanni Santiago, the talented Puerto Rican guard who calls Cincinnati home, was able to showcase his talents to a wider range of assessors and he left the tournament with an impressive offer from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He was not alone by leaving the tournament with offers to extend his basketball careers.
While the Meridian Centre in St Catharines now lies dormant for the summer, attracting the occasional summer concert, the small army of college recruiters who called it a temporary home have scattered across North America to uncover a gem or two at AAU Live weekends. All with their endless college swag, advertising who they represented, packed into suitcases. Along their journey they hope to master the skill of massaging the NCAA’s endless rules around protecting the sanctity of student athletes. This unique job requirement is no exercise for the faint of heart.
Carleton Ravens and Syracuse Orange set to tangle once again
Defending champions Carleton University Ravens will once again tangle with the Syracuse Orange in a marquee match-up between U Sports and NCAA powerhouses.
The Ravens will make their second trip to the Carrier Dome on Tuesday, October 29, 2019 to wrap-up another jammed-packed 2019-2020 exhibition schedule.
The two schools first played back on August 23rd 2013 in Ottawa with Syracuse winning a thrilling 69-65 overtime victory as part of Syracuse’s Canada tour and the debut of Canadian point guard Tyler Ennis
The Orange also got the best of the Ravens, pulling-off a 88-76 win on November 2nd 2014.
The 2019-2020 will mark the debut season for new Ravens head coach Taffe Charles who takes over for Dave Smart who surprised the entire college basketball landscape by announcing his sudden retirement.
Montreal’s freshman Quincy Guerrier alongside junior point guard Howard Washington (Buffalo/NY) are the latest Canadian’s to suite-up for legendary player, turned hall-of-hame coach Jim Boeheim, who has been at the helm since 1976.
Boeheim is the king of getting Canadians in the NBA — having single-handily responsible for overseeing the growth of Leo Rautins, Kris Joseph, Tyler Ennis, Andy Rautins, and now Oshae Brissett and if it all pans out — potentially Guerrier as well.
Under the guidance of their own legendary hall-of-fame coach Dave Smart the Ravens played a Canadian record 59 games against NCAA teams – earning a more than respectable 41-51 record from 1999-2018.
The Ravens boasted an unreal and never to be broken 37-24 winning record against NCAA teams on Canadian soil but mustered-up only one victory in the USA — beating Providence 77-67 in October 28, 2017.
James Naismith Classic NCAA triple-header to feature big names
For the past 20 years NCAA basketball teams have been making the trip north of the border to take on Canadian U Sports teams in early August as part of the NCAA vs. U Sports exhibition series.
Now it looks like we are ready for the next step — regular season, non-conference games between NCAA schools on fertile Canadian basketball
According to multiple reports, and now
Sponsored by the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame — the St. Bonaventure Bonnies (A-10) will take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (Big 10). The Buffalo Bulls (MAC) will face the Harvard Crimson (Ivy) and the Tennessee Volunteers (SEC) will square off against the Pac 12 champions Washington Huskies.
A total of six Canadian’s could be featured in the marque homecoming event including, Rutgers’ Eugene Omoruyi (Rexdale, Ont.), Harvard’s Danilo Djuricic Brampton, Ont.), and Luka Sakota (Oakville, Ont.). The Crimson also features Ottawa, Ont. duo
Omoruyi a 6’7″, 234-pound bruising senior forward is coming off of his best season — leading the Scarlet Knights in scoring and rebounds at a respective 13.8 and 7.2 per game.
Noah Kirkwood (6’7, 215 lbs) guard had a productive freshman season with 11.1 rebounds, 4.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists as the Crimson (18-11, 10-4 Conf) just missed out on the 2019 NCAA March Madness tournament with a close loss to Yale in the conference title game.
The Buffalo Bulls’ are coming off their most successful season in the program’s history with an outstanding 32-4, 16-2 record and a six-seed in the West region.
The marquee match-up pits the Tennessee Volunteers against the Washington Huskies. Tennessee finished second in the SEC with a strong 31-6, 15-3 campaign for head coach Rick Barnes – bowing out to Purdue in the Sweet 16.
The Huskies, although not a traditional Canadian destination, will become the first NCAA men’s basketball team to make back-to-back trips to Canada.
In 2018 the Vancouver Showcase tipped off — bringing four NCAA men’s (Washington, Santa Clara, Minnesota, Texas A&M) and eight women’s basketball team’s to the west coast of Canada — marking the first time NCAA division one games played in Canada counted as non-conference records.
With Toronto continuously out-churning the mecca (New York City) and other traditional American powerhouses for quality NCAA and NBA basketball prospects — it makes more than dollars and cents — much like the Empire Classic — to ensure that the northern city that never sleeps has it’s annual NCAA regular season dosage.
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