Record number of Canadians in March Madness is part of an ongoing basketball success story

Canada has seen double-digit numbers of homegrown basketball players participating in March Madness in recent years, a testament to the large pool of talent on this side of the border.

Fifty-three such athletes are part of this year’s famed NCAA Division I men’s and women’s basketball championships, which is a record according to Canada Basketball, although the tournaments have had at least 50 Canadian participants for three consecutive years, including this one.

University of Connecticut forward Aaliyah Edwards of Kingston, Ont., is one such player, and she attributes her success to her “big sisters” on the Canadian senior women’s team who mentored her.

“Big shout out to them; just a big shout out to the Canadian basketball family,” she told CBC News, adding that she hopes she can have a similar impact on the next generation of players.

“All those little girls striving to be in my position… [who] want to pick up a basketball and be passionate about it, just know that you can be successful if you put your mind to it and keep your family close.

LOOK | Edwards on her Canadian support and inspiration:

UConn basketball player Aaliyah Edwards on her Canadian support and inspiration

Aaliyah Edwards thanked her Canada women’s national basketball teammates for helping her compete as a student-athlete for the UConn Huskies and compete for a U.S. collegiate championship.

Canadians are here to stay

Matt Slan, the founder and CEO of Slan Sports Management, said the number is unlikely to change much now that Canada is producing so many great players.

“Canadians are here to stay when it comes to basketball,” says Slan, who recalls the days when it was hard to get players noticed from this side of the border.

According to him, 50 Canadian players were involved in March Madness by 2022.

A year earlier, 25 men and 27 women participated in the tournaments, according to figures reported by Canada Basketball.

There were no March Madness games at all in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘Pretty consistent’ appearances

Michael Meeks, the assistant general manager of Canada Basketball’s men’s basketball operations, says the number of March Madness players with Canadian roots has been “fairly constant” over the past few years.

But it’s no surprise given the success of Canadian players followed by the players who came after them.

A Canadian basketball player makes a practice shot.
Zach Edey is getting ready to do a rehearsal shoot in Columbus, Ohio on Thursday. The Purdue Boilmakers Center is among a record number of Canadians participating in this year’s NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships. (Joseph Maiorana/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters)

“We’ve been producing top-level athletes for the past 10 years,” Meeks said, pointing to the frequent selection of Canadians as first-round NBA draft picks, as just one example of this ongoing and broader wave of success.

For Meeks, there are a number of factors contributing to this trend, including support for emerging players, access to better competition as those players develop, and greater US awareness of the Canadian talent pool.

Both Meeks and Slan emphasize the broader community of people helping build the game in Canada and supporting the next generation of players.

“There are a lot of Canadians doing a lot of good things on the basketball court and off the basketball court to support the movement as a whole,” Slan said.

The vast landscape of March Madness involves more than 100 American college teams. But the respective winners of the men’s and women’s championships will ultimately not be decided until early April, despite the name of the tournament.

Slan points out that for players nearing the end of their college career, the tournament precedes what they will do next.

Some will land in the NBA or WNBA, but others will find opportunities in other parts of the world.

“From Taiwan to Lebanon to Qatar, they all have professional basketball leagues,” Slan said, noting that this could also be the next step for some Canadian players.

Past Canadian champions

Few Canadians have been part of teams that have won the NCAA Championship.

Most recently, Alyssa Jerome was part of the Stanford team that won the 2021 NCAA women’s title. A few years earlier, Kia Nurse, playing for UConn, won consecutive titles in 2015 and 2016. In 2000, Kelly Schumacher, a US-born player who grew up in Quebec, won a title, also with UConn.

Canada Basketball identifies Mike Brkovich as the first Canadian member of a men’s team to win an NCAA title, with Michigan State in 1979. Others include Jamaal Magloire, when he played for the University of Kentucky in 1998; David Thomas, also with Michigan State, in 2000; Denham Brown with UConn in 2004; and Kyle Wiltjer in 2012, as part of a victorious Kentucky team.

A Canadian basketball player shoots during a game.
Denham Brown shoots between two opponents during an NCAA basketball game in March 2004. The Canadian basketball player was part of a team that won the men’s championship title that year. (Peter Jones/Reuters)

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