CHARLOTTE — In a workout for the Charlotte Hornets last week, two of the six draft candidates were Canadians.
That’s becoming more the norm than a rarity these days in the NBA. Canadian Anthony Bennett was the No. 1 overall pick in 2013 and another Canadian, Kansas forward Andrew Wiggins, could be the top pick in the June 26 draft.
At least four other Canadians figure to be drafted this year, and two of those — Michigan shooting guard Nik Stauskas and Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis — look solidly in the first round. They’ll join current players like Los Angeles Lakers point guard Steve Nash and Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Tristan Thompson.
As Nash’s stardom ascended over the past decade, Canadian interest in basketball did likewise, these players say.
“I don’t know anybody who plays basketball in Canada who didn’t see Steve Nash as their favorite player,” said Stanford forward Dwight Powell. “He’s an amazing role model and has stayed so loyal to Canada Basketball throughout. He’s done wonders for Canadian basketball.”
Powell grew up in Toronto, Canada’s most populous city. The surrounding province of Ontario is the epicenter of this basketball surge. Bennett, Wiggins, Stauskas and Ennis all grew up there.
Nash was more the rarity, growing up in British Columbia.
The other Canadian at Thursday’s workout, Arizona State center Jordan Bachynski, grew up even more off the beaten path, in Alberta. The 7-foot-2 center defines late bloomer, which he said was partially a function of the limited coaching he had growing up.
That changed in the Pac-12. Last season, as a senior, he led the NCAA in shots blocked at 4.03 per game.
“Growing up, my best coaching was from my parents,” said Bachynski, who projects as a second-round pick for his rim-protecting.
“(Nash) paved the way. He takes Canada basketball really seriously,” Bachynski said. “I played on the development team this past summer. There’s no other country in the world that has their senior men’s coach (also) coaching the development team. I got great experience there.”
Bachynski was referring to Jay Triano, who coaches Canada’s senior national team. Last summer he coached the junior team in a tournament in Russia. Triano was head coach of the Toronto Raptors and is now an assistant with Portland Trail Blazers.
At 40 Nash is past the point of playing on the national team, but he’s taken an executive role. Canada Basketball named him general manager of the senior men’s program.
“Canada is really excited about basketball. During the Raptors’ playoff run, there were 10,000 to 20,000 people standing outside the arena, watching the games on a big screen,” Bachynski said.
“(Ontario has) a really dense population and they have a great development program for young kids. There’s talent all over the place.”
Powell said there always was plentiful talent in Ontario. The difference is now it’s being noticed and nurtured.
“I think it’s just exposure. Growing up from middle school to high school, I always saw guys who could play,” said Powell. “Canada Basketball had done a great job of expanding that exposure to the U.S., especially for guys like myself who came here for prep school and then Division I basketball.”