The NBA has recently seen a surge in Canadian talent on its courts. The surge can be traced back to 2013 when Canadians Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins were picked first overall in back-to-back NBA drafts. And while the majority of Canadian basketball fans are enamoured only with the NBA, the amount of homegrown talent on display overseas is remarkable. Yes, tuning into an Italian pro league game is not as easy as catching a Raptors game but with a little digging on YouTube, you can find some quality Canuck basketball highlights.
With Canada Basketball’s talent pool for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament brimming with players beyond the NBA, we take a look at some Team Canada hopefuls who could crack the roster for The Qualifier.
A third generation Slovene Canadian, Pangos was a multi-sport athlete in his youth, excelling in both hockey and basketball. He had family connections in the hockey world as his uncle played in the NHL and cousin was drafted by the Washington Capitals, yet he chose basketball as his focus. With Steve Nash as his greatest inspiration growing up, Pangos would often mirror the former MVP and Hall of Famer’s training tactics. The result? An elite shot-making playmaker who was efficient from deep and ready to excel in college.
Pangos chose Gonzaga, where he played from 2011-2015. His impact was felt immediately as a freshman, leading his team in points, assists, steals, three-pointers made, and free throw percentage. In his final year at Gonzaga, Pangos won the West Coast Conference player of the year.
After college, the game took Pangos to Spain where he played for Herbalife Gran Canaria. After one season in Spain, he joined Lithuanian club, Žalgiris, and was named an All-EuroLeague second team all star in 2018. As of last year, Pangos currently plays with Zenit Saint Petersburg of the VTB United League in Russia.
On the international stage, Pangos proudly represented Canada multiple times. Over three events with Canada’s youth teams, he put up averages of 16 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game, helping his team to bronze medals in the 2009 FIBA Americas U16 Championships and the 2010 FIBA U17 World Championships.
Kyle Wiltjer was born in Portland, Oregon, but holds dual citizenship as his dad is Canadian. Wiltjer was a Oregon basketball stud in high school, leading Jesuit High School to three consecutive state championships, as well as being honoured as a Mcdonald's All-American in 2011. The smooth shooting 6’10” forward was ranked as the No.18 recruit by ESPN in the class of 2011- and chose to play for the basketball powerhouse Kentucky Wildcats. Although he came in as a five-star recruit freshman, Wiltjer never started a game due to a stacked team that included NBA prospects Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Marquis Teague.
Despite not starting a game, Wiltjer shot an impressive 42.5% from three-point land and his Wildcats won the 2012 NCAA Championship. He played one more year with Kentucky, where he was named the SEC’s Sixth Man of the Year, but ultimately chose to transfer to Gonzaga for the remainder of his college career. Continuing his production up north, Wiltjer scorched Pacific for 45 points in 2015- and in his final season averaged 20 points per game.
Wiltjer began his professional career in Greece, signing with Olympiacos Piraeus of the GBL in 2017. The big man from Canada currently plays in Turkey for Türk Telekom, where he’s been putting up 18.6 points and 6.4 assists per game while shooting a red-hot 42.6% from three.
While repping red internationally for Canada, Wiltjter won a bronze medal at the 2010 FIBA Americas U18 Championships as the team's second leading scorer and won silver at the Pan American Games in 2015.
Many elite athletes often excel at multiple sports growing up, and perhaps it’s that variety that gives them an advantage when they reach the pros. For Andrew Nicholson, baseball was his first passion growing up but a timely growth spurt pushed him off the diamond and on to the hardwood. A latecomer to basketball, Nicholson didn’t start playing until he was a high school junior.
Despite his late start, Nicholson had a very impressive senior season- and went on to play for St. Bonaventure University in New York. A remarkable freshman season awarded him with Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year honours, leading all freshmen in field goal percentage and blocks. Equipped with an outstanding 7’4” wingspan, the defensive stalwart was named to the All-Defensive First Team in his junior and senior years. Throughout his four years in college, Nicholson averaged 17 points, seven rebounds, and two blocks per game.
Nicholson went on to become the 19th pick in the 2012 NBA draft where he played for five seasons. In September 2017 he took his talents across the Pacific Ocean to play in the Chinese Basketball Association, signing with the Guangdong Southern Tigers. After a season with the Tigers he signed with the Fujian Sturgeons, upping his production to an impressive 27.8 points and nine rebounds per game in the 2018-19 season.
Rounding out his diverse basketball career, Andrew Nicholson has represented Canada in six international series from 2013 to 2017. His most notable appearance was in the 2015 Pan American Games where he helped Canada bring home a silver medal.
Born in Toronto, Ontario, Melvin Ejim is a Nigerian Canadian basketball player who proves height is not everything. Standing at just 6’6” as a power forward, Ejim is considered undersized for his position. However, he has been a tremendous rebounder throughout his career using his athleticism and keen ball sense to make up for his size. Ejim spent his high school career playing for Brewster Academy south of the border in New Hampshire. He played a large role in their impressive 34-4 record in 2010, leading them to a National Prep School Championship.
He went on to play in college for Iowa State, where he continually matched up against taller players. This did not, however, present a problem for Ejim as he went on to become one of the most decorated players in the school's history. In his freshman campaign he averaged 10 points and just under seven rebounds per game. In his junior year he became just the third player in conference history to lead the Big 12 in rebounding at 6’6” or shorter. His final and best year earned him the Big 12 Player of the Year, and a nomination for the Oscar Robertson Trophy for the most outstanding NCAA D1 men's basketball player.
Ejim was not only a phenomenal athlete but also a stand out student. Throughout his time at Iowa State he acquired multiple academic awards and honors including Big 12 Scholar Athlete of the Year (2X) and multiple All-American selections.
After college, Ejim has played for a number of professional teams in Europe. His best season was in 2017 with Italian team Reyer Venezia Mestre where he led them to a championship while earning Finals MVP.
Well represented internationally, Melvin Ejim has represented both Canada and Nigeria on their Men’s National Teams. For Canada, he competed in five international events from 2015 to 2017 where he averaged 8.6 ppg and 5.2 rpg. EJIM’s most notable performance was in the 2015 Tuto Marchand Cup where he put up 6.8 ppg and grabbed 6.8 rpg while helping Canada finish first.
Vancouver-born Phil Scrubb is one of the most accomplished athletes in Canadian Interuniversity Sport basketball history. In 2010, Scrubb joined a dominant Carleton Ravens team that had won six of the previous eight national championships. That seems like enough, right? Nope. In his five years with the Ravens Scrubb completed a perfect sweep, winning another FIVE championships for Carleton. Scrubb’s career with Carleton was nothing short of spectacular, as he received the Peter Mullins Trophy as CIS Rookie of the Year and the Mosner Trophy as the Most Outstanding CIS Player (2X), while putting up an overall team record of 102-3. Ridiculous.
Scrubb’s professional career led him to Europe where he signed with the AEK Athens club in the Greek league for a two-year contract before moving to Germany to play with the Frankfurt Skyliners. In 2016, he helped the Skyliners bring home the club’s first FIBA Europe Cup.
His talent has been on display with Canada’s National Teams several times at both the Junior and Senior level. Most notably, helping Canada win a bronze medal at the 2010 FIBA Americas Under-18 Championship and gold in the 2015 Tuto Marchand Cup.