Almost 1,500 kilometers due south of Toronto in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, there’s a college basketball program quickly becoming ‘Canada South.’
It’s a nickname Alabama basketball coach Nate Oats takes pride in. If Canadians can help him win, he’ll happily head north to recruit the country’s best.
“We’ll play Oh Canada for them if they need,” he joked.
It might not be a joke for very long if Alabama continues to recruit the way it did in 2020. After 97 years without a Canadian on its roster, the Crimson Tide landed 247sports’ top two ranked Canadian high school basketball prospects in Josh Primo — who announced his commitment last Friday — and Keon Ambrose-Hylton.
Landing Primo — a 6-foot-6 combo guard ranked No. 47 on 247sports — and Ambrose-Hylton — a 6-foot-8 power forward ranked No. 115 — took a key relationship between Alabama assistant coach Bryan Hodgson and Dwayne Washington, the two boys’ AAU coach at UPlay, one of Canada’s premiere basketball programs.
Hodgson first met Washington in 2002 when he played on Washington’s ninth grade basketball team in Jamestown, NY. Though they remained close as Hodgson’s coaching career progressed, Washington never sent him one of his players.
“They never got a kid from me,” Washington said with a laugh. “Even though that was my friend, they never got one because at the time I didn’t think it was at the level of my players.”
Things changed when Hodgson moved to Alabama and helped turn the Crimson Tide into one of the NCAA’s most exciting programs. Now, coaching under Oats, Alabama’s No. 3 ranked scoring offense has piqued the interest of Washington and his boys.
“Seeing the way they play, the transition, the way they pass the ball with good shooters, it’s a very versatile team,” Ambrose-Hylton. “It’s the best place to get me to the NBA.”
For Alabama, recruiting Canada is an opportunity to find some under-the-radar prospects.
“I think it’s still a secret,” Hodgson said of Canadian basketball. “There are still kids out there that are being under recruited and probably kids out there who haven’t even been noticed yet.”
Though Oats is no foreigner to recruiting Canada, he’s been looking north since his days at the University of Buffalo, he said he’s been impressed by how deep the talent has become over the past few years, especially in terms of boys staying in Canada for high school.
With Primo and Ambrose-Hylton set to join the team next season, Alabama and Crimson Tide fans are ready to welcome their Canadians with open arms. Some fans went so far as to sing Oh Canada on social media after Primo’s commitment.
If things go as expected, Ambrose-Hylton is hoping to turn Alabama into a destination for Canadian basketball players.
“I don’t think a lot of Canadians see Alabama as a school they would go to or would want to go to, so I definitely could see us and the whole team in general making a big impact,” Ambrose-Hylton said. “There’s definitely a lot of Canadians that would consider coming to Alabama.”
It’s certainly something Oats would be more than happy to see.
“We love to make Alabama ‘Canada South,’” he joked. “We’ll have a lot of maple leaves all over the building.”