Breaking down NCAA decisions of Canada’s top ballers

Yahoo Canada Sports
Everything you need to know about where Canada’s top basketball prospects will be playing next season. (Getty Images)
Everything you need to know about where Canada’s top basketball prospects will be playing next season. (Getty Images)

When R.J. Barrett announced that he would be attending Duke University next season, the news flooded social media timelines for days. Basketball fans knew where four out of the five of Canada’s top prospects would be heading, but they were still waiting on one final decision to be announced.

On Nov. 22, Simisola “Simi” Shittu took to social media to tell the world his not-so-secretive decision that he would be attending Vanderbilt University next season. With this announcement via The Players’ Tribune, all five of Canada’s top prospects have picked their schools for next season.

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SIMI SHITTU, Vanderbilt University

In late September, Simi Shittu announced his official visits would include the University of Arizona, University of North Carolina, and Vanderbilt University — and on Nov. 22, he announced that it was Vanderbilt that made the lasting impression.

With Arizona assistant coach Emmanuel Richardson still under federal investigation after being accused of taking $20,000 in bribes to pay a recruit to commit to the school, it was commonly thought that Shittu would informally pick between UNC and Vandy. But after cancelled visits to North Carolina and Arizona, it became clear what his ultimate decision would be.

The Tar Heels signed a five-star PG back in July 2016 in Coby White, and two small forwards; four-star Rechon Black and five-star Nassir Little, so it didn’t look like there would be enough ball to share if Shittu injected himself into an already stacked roster.

Less than two weeks ago, when five-star PG Darius Garland committed to the Commodores, it was in the back of basketball junkies’ minds how dangerous the duo of Garland and five-star Shittu would be on the hardwood — and it seems like Shittu agreed.

Vanderbilt is going on a freshmen frenzy; in addition to the pass-first point guard, and the Canadian big man, Vandy also clinched four-star Aaron Nesmith earlier this year — making 2018 one of the best incoming classes the program has ever seen. With a slew of freshman on this year’s roster and only three seniors, next year’s team has a chance to grow with each other under the leadership of the big-three-freshmen and make a push for the championship after being upset early in this past year’s March Madness tournament.

R.J. BARRETT, Duke University

As Canada’s unanimous top prospect for the class of 2018 — after reclassifying late this past summer — five-star R.J. Barrett announced his commitment to Duke University on Nov. 10. He had already narrowed down his top three schools to Oregon University, University of Kentucky and Duke, but for anyone who knows him, Duke was always the right pick for a player looking to go one-and-done to the NBA.

The crafty left-handed guard plays the small-forward position and says he always dreamt of playing for Duke and Coach K as a kid. Plus, having alumnus and NBA legend Grant Hill walk him through campus on his official visit didn’t hurt the school’s chances. More importantly, this is the third year in a row that Duke has signed the top high school prospect, and the squad only graduates one senior from the roster for the 2018-2019 season.

Senior Grayson Allen, one of Duke’s top players who is shooting almost 50% from the field this season,  will move on from college ball come March. But he won’t be leaving the only hole in the roster: the Blue Devils’ freshman class — Trevon Duval, Marvin Bagley, Jordan Tucker, Gary Trent and Wendell Carter — are arguably all (or at least four of five) shoe-ins for the one-and-done route. And that leaves a huge hole for the highly touted Barrett and No. 3 North American prospect Cam Reddish to fill.

IGNAS BRAZDEIKIS, University of Michigan

The Oakville-native might be the most underrated player in the 2018 class, and the Wolverines’ coaching staff took full advantage of that. After choosing Michigan over schools like Vanderbilt and Florida, he said playing for the Wolverines was a lifelong dream (especially after friend and Mississauga-native Nik Stauskas had a successful two-year career in Michigan before being drafted into the NBA).

Last year, playing for Nathan Johnson at Orangeville Prep, Brazdeikis blew up, averaging 30 points and 10 rebounds per game — including multiple 50-point games, one against Prolific Prep, a top American prep school in California. This season, Brazdeikis is already on a tear, averaging over 25 points per game and helping his team win the annual Westtown Classic tournament in Pennsylvania. In the championship game against Westtown School led by Reddish, Brazdeikis racked up 19 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals.

Brakdeikis can do it all on the hardwood, known as a versatile small forward with unmatched scoring abilities. Small is relative, of course. Brazdeikis stands at 6’7″ and 220 pounds and is deadly slashing to the basket and finishing creatively around the hoop. He’s also emerged as one of the best 3-point shooters in his Canadian league. With Michigan’s two-guard offence, it will allow Brazdeikis to stay outside the 3-point line and give him enough space to do what he does best: drive, or pull the long-bomb. As he continues to build his arsenal to make an immediate impact on the Wolverines and develop into one of the NCAA’s top players, he is no doubt looking to make a push to the big leagues in the near future. He joins four-star Brandon Johns, four-star David DeJulius and three-star Taylor Currie in next season’s freshmen class.

LUGUENTZ DORT, Arizona State University 

On the cusp of becoming a McDonald’s All-American, Luguentz Dort decided to leave the rat race and spend his last high school year north of the border attending Athlete Institute Academy. It turns out he didn’t need that McDonald’s All-American nod to pick up top-notch college offers. In mid-October, the Quebec-native narrowed his choices to Baylor University, Oregon University and Arizona State University, before eventually announcing his final commitment to the Sun Devils via a video played at his school’s Midnight Madness event.

This will only be Arizona State’s third five-star prospect in the last ten years (James Harden is one of those, and things turned out pretty well for him). ASU will also bring in Finnish four-star shooting guard Elias Valtonen to share in the freshman duties with Dort.

And although Dort has big shoes to fill in the shadow of Harden, he has the ability, and heart to do so. The 6’5″ 220 pound point guard is a beast (as his Instagram handle @luthebeast confirms). He can out-run, out-jump, and out-hustle almost any player on any court, and he proved that at the 2017 BioSteel All-Canadian game, the equivalent to the U.S.’s McDonald’s All-American game. In the spring showcase, Dort racked up 30 points on 12-for-16 shooting which included the most memorable and powerful dunks of the evening.

When asked why ASU, Dort replied that it was the relationship he had built with head coach Bobby Hurley.

ANDREW NEMBHARD, University of Florida

When Andrew Nembhard stepped back onto the court after a stomach surgery in July, he quickly reclassified to the class of 2018 and narrowed down his list of schools — he was on a mission to move on to the NCAA. His final four schools included Ohio State University, University of Southern California, Gonzaga University and University of Florida, where he eventually committed. 

With the Gators’ only true pass-first point guard Chris Chiozza graduating at the end of this season, it left a gaping hole for Nembhard to slide in and see serious minutes from the moment he puts on the orange jersey.

Nembhard is a floor-general in every sense of the term: the 6’3″ four-star PG pads his stats with assists over points, collecting 30 assists in his first 10 games, while averaging about 10 points per game with Montverde Academy this year, his senior high school season.

Florida head coach Mike White’s point-guard driven system is enticing to a young player who wants veteran minutes from the get-go. The Gators play a four-out offense that is predicated on ball screens, and they rely heavily on the point guard making the right reads. With Nembhard’s basketball IQ and pace, he should slide nicely into the Florida system.

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