The NBA has always taken pride in the amount of international influence America’s pro league has had over the years. From players like Vlade Divac and the late Drazen Petrovic, to today’s top imports like Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, chances are that if you’re good enough, the NBA will find you.
But over the last decade, no single country outside of the United States has produced more NBA talent than Canada, and judging by the current crop of Canucks playing significant minutes for top NCAA programs, that fact isn’t likely to change anytime soon.
As the lone survivor of the league’s Canadian expansion experiment, the Toronto Raptors shoulder a responsibility unlike that of any other NBA franchise. And on top of the obvious pressures that come with these responsibilities, there are those north of the border who feel very strongly that Toronto is obligated to draft a Canadian player in the very near future.
Prior to the arrival of Steve Nash at the University of Santa Clara in the mid-1990s, most young Canadians weren’t aware of a single NCAA player that hailed from their native land. Instead, just like everyone else, pictures of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson covered the walls of Canadian hoops hopefuls.
But Nash changed that, and along with current NBA players such as Tristan Thompson, Andrew Nicholson, Joel Anthony, Cory Joseph and Kelly Olynyk, Canada’s presence in the sport’s leading organization has never been stronger. While acquiring a Canadian already in the league is always an option and could easily happen, the Raptors are likely eying a few specific NCAA players who could potentially be the first Canucks to ever wear the purple and red.
Most notably, University of Kansas freshmen Andrew Wiggins would be a perfect fit as far as Raptors nation is concerned. But due to Toronto’s unexpected success this season, the chances of landing the former All-American are slim unless the Raptors can somehow improve upon their position in the draft.
And while University of Michigan sophomore Nik Stauskas, Iowa State senior Melvin Ejim, University of Syracuse freshman Tyler Ennis and Arizona State‘s 7-foot-2 senior Jordan Bachynski have all had seasons that warrant NBA attention, only two of the previously mentioned four players are guaranteed to enter this year’s draft.
Now that Toronto is armed with arguably the best roster in years and just weeks away from a return to the playoffs, the next logical step to take in the upcoming offseason is to secure the services of a Canadian player.
Even if there’s no chance to draft or acquire Wiggins, a player such as Ejim could still be around by the time GM Masai Ujiri steps up to the podium. Either way, with the franchise’s 20th anniversary coming up next season, other than another playoff run, there may not be a more fitting way to mark the occasion.