What now for Canada's top NCAA players?
The Sweet Sixteen was supposed to tip off today.
This was supposed to be crunch time for NCAA players across the country. It was supposed to be the time of year when NBA scouts separate the wheat from the chaff, when narratives are written and when legacies are etched into history.
Remember Kemba Walker's run with UConn in 2011? Or the time Gordon Hayward and the Butler Bulldogs went all the way to the 2010 finals.
Those guys rode Cinderella runs to lottery picks in their respective draft.
That was supposed to happen for a handful of players this year, but it won't. Instead, college basketball players will have to make major decisions about their future without any help from a March miracle.
"Every single year during March there are guys playing who go on incredible runs and really showcase their talents when the big lights are on," Minnesota's Canadian point guard Marcus Carr said. "At least one or two people who do that make a name for themselves and put themselves in a position to become a pro and play at the next level."
Carr — a 6-foot-2, Torontonian — was in the midst of a breakout redshirt sophomore season when his year came to an abrupt end due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He was averaging 15.4 points with a team-high 6.7 assists per game for the Golden Gophers this season after being forced to sit out last year having transferred from Pittsburgh.
Though a run to March Madness seemed unlikely for the Big Ten's twelfth ranked Golden Gophers, Carr's team was coming off a 72-52 victory over Northwestern and looking forward to a rematch against Iowa when news broke that the season was over.
"It didn’t seem real at first," Carr said. "As a team we were kind of shocked, we were like dang because we kind of felt really energetic, we had a lot of positive energy and felt like we were going to go on a run."
In Nashville, South Carolina's A.J. Lawson was getting ready for to take on Arkansas in the SEC tournament when he found out that his year was over.
The 19-year-old Brampton native had led the Gamecocks to an 18-13 record as the team's top scorer, averaging 13.4 points per game.
Instead of potentially improving his draft stock this March if he opts to enter the draft this year, Lawson said he spends his days trying to stay in shape at home, working out, stretching and eating right, not what he had anticipated doing these days considering he too thought his team could make a run through the conference tournament and potentially sneak into the big dance.
Florida's Andrew Nembhard of Aurora said the virus has really been affecting his decision regarding potentially entering the upcoming NBA draft. His Gators were expected to be playing in March Madness, but instead he's back home in Ontario taking online classes and trying to stay safe.
"I think it’s affecting guys a lot because there is so much uncertainty," Nembhard said.
The 6-foot-5 Nembhard was averaging 11.2 points with a team-high 5.6 assists per game when his season ended ahead of the Gators SEC tournament game against Georgia.
For NBA scouts, the cancellation means a little bit less tape to review the incoming rookie class. Though every team has spent countless hours reviewing hundreds of players, March gives scouts a rare opportunity to see how guys play under the spotlight.
"The NCAA Tournament gives players a new opportunity to shine," said Wesley Brown of NBAProspects.com and the Monday Morning Scouting Report. "Players can really help or hurt their draft stock in this time of year."
Instead of adding to their resumes, Canada's top NCAA players will be forced to make a decision without the benefit of March draft magic.