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.
Montreal’s Bennedict Mathurin commits to Arizona Wildcats
The Arizona Wildcats got a big time commitment from Bennedict Mathurin — Canada’s top guard in the class of 2020.
The 17-year old Mathurin opted to reclassify from the 2021 class — fast tracking his potential NBA eligibility in the process. Standing at 6’6″, 195 pounds, the Montreal native has all the attributes to make an immediate impact at the NCAA division I basketball level — with a NBA ceiling written all-over his resume.
Perhaps not a household commodity, due to his lack of participation in any Canadian FIBA youth sanctioned events — Mathurin was named MVP of the 2019 Canadian National Basketball U17 Championships in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
The Canadian guard/forward led a loaded Quebec team to a perfect 5-0 record — claiming the province’s first U17 title since 2010. Mathurin dominated the entire tournament, including a electric, eye-popping 33 point, 7 assist, 6 rebound performance in the opening game against Team Ontario.
In the championship game against same Ontario squad, Mathurin was equally impressive — scoring 23 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals in the 84-77 victory.
Mathurin is currently showcasing and strutting his growing all-around game in Mexico City as part of NBA Academy Latin America — an elite basketball training center for top male and female prospects across the Caribbean Central and South America.
The Canadian prospect kicked off 2020 and new decade in style with a 30-point, 6 rebounds outburst in a 93-74 win over FC Barcelona U18 team at the Hospitalet tournament.
A lockdown defender with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander like wingspan, Mathurin has the ability to get from the three-point line to the rim with just one dribble. At 6”6′ he’s also able to see over much smaller defenders and is a willing and effective passer that looks to attack at rim can finish with through contact.
Part of the continuous and overflowing rising crop of future NBA talent from Canada’s second largest city — Mathurin may just be the top guard to come out of Montreal since current Oklahoma City Thunder guard Luguentz Dort pledged allegiance to the desert State of Arizona.
Holding multiple offers from the likes of NCAA basketball programs as Virginia, Alabama, Washington State and Nebraska — Mathurin narrowed his decision to the Arizona Wildcats and Oregon Ducks.
“Those two schools were my finalists because the other schools recruited me a little later, and I said to myself, that if I was going to visit other schools it was going to take a lot more time to get to know the coaching staff and also lots of time to get to know for example who (players) was coming back and leaving.” discussed a well spoken Mauthrin in a live french announcement during half-time of the Toronto Raptors’ and OKC Thunder game.
On what tipped the balance between the two finalist schools, Mauthrin added that the “history of Arizona, the style of play and the fact that every player has a role, and that is my style of play.”
For head coach Sean Miller the commitment of Mauthrin is a significant scoop for a player that was just starting to gain national notoriety and will likely mature into another future Canadian NBA player.
Abu Kigab career night powers Boise State Broncos
Canadian Abu Kigab (St. Catherines, Ont.) dropped a career best 33 points, 11 rebounds to power the Boise State Broncos 103-72 past the CSU Northridge Matadors.
The 6’7″, 211-pound junior forward was efficient as a heat pump, knocking down a hot 11-of-16 field-goals, 3-of-4 triples and 8-of-9 free-throws in just 26 minutes — including a two-hand alley-oop — to bring the home crowd to it’s feet while recording his 30th point.
Kigab’s output is one the best performances by a Canadian playing NCAA DI basketball and as per the Broncos’ public relations team “It’s just the 17th 30 & 10 game all-time by a Bronco and seventh in the last 25 years.” Chicago Bulls’ rookie Chandler Hutchison was the last Boise State player to reach the milestone — erupting for 39 points and 14 rebounds at the 2018 NIT.
“We were all making the right play and some nights that’s just how it is,” Kigab said. “I just go out there and try to win the game. I’ll do whatever it takes. Sometimes I might have to score more, sometimes I need to rebound more, sometimes I need to pass more. Whatever my team needs, that’s what I’ll do.”
Highly recruited coming out high school, Kigab was part of the historic Canadian national team that captured the country’s first-ever basketball gold medal at the 2017 U19 World Cup. The hybrid forward averaged a double-double with 14.7 points and 10.6 rebounds — earning a nod in the all-world all-star team alongside MVP RJ Barrett.
Abu Kigab commits to Oregon Ducks
The St. Catherine’s product committed to the Oregon Ducks — playing a season and half before opting to transfer to Boise State. Kigab showed promise in his first three games under Dana Altman hitting double-figures scoring in all three non-conference games before completely falling out of the rotation. In 45 games with the Ducks, Kigab scored just a total of 82 points while playing only 418 minutes.
Since becoming eligible and joining the Broncos starting lineup on December 22, Kigab has helped the team to a 3-1 record — including two straight double-doubles and has scored a total of 64 points.
Based on early results it’s fair to say that the change in scenery and shift from the Pac 12 brand of basketball to the Mountain West Conference (MWC) has benefited Kigab’s game.
The Broncos compete in the tough Mountain West Conference with the likes of San Diego State, UNLV, New Mexico and Nevada. The Conference has a history with Canadians and holds the title of producing former Running Rebel and No. 1 NBA pick Anthony Bennett. The MWC currently features eight Canadians across multiple teams — including Elijah Mitrou-Long (UNLV), Nolan Narain, Sabry Philip and others.
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