It has been a banner year for Canadians playing NCAA basketball, and the buzz will be building this week as "Selection Sunday" rolls around and conference tournaments get played out.
Already Tristan Thompson of Brampton, ON has made as big a splash as any Canadian in recent memory by earning Big 12 freshman of the year recognition and emerging as a legitimate candidate for national recognition in the same category on No.8 Texas.
But is the big power forward from Texas even the best player from Brampton?
Tuesday evening much less heralded Andrew Nicholson will lead St. Bonaventure into an Atlantic 10 playoff game against LaSalle in tiny Olean, New York.
UPDATE: Nicholson had 30 points and 13 rebounds in a heart-breaking double overtime loss, ending his season
Bonaventure is a program with considerable history but which nearly came apart in a scandal nearly a decade ago.
This season the Bonnies had their first winning season in nine years and 6-foot-8, 235-pound Nicholson is the reason why.
"The kid is good," says Toronto Raptors broadcaster Jack Armstrong, who was at the microphone for CBS College Sports when Nicholson single-handedly secured both a winning season and a home playoff date for St. Bonnaventure, shredding Rhode Island for 30 points on 12-of-14 shooting.
Armstrong says it was as dominant a performance as he's seen Western New York in over two decades as a coach and broadcaster.
Locally Nicholson is beginning to make believers in an area where they're used to see hopes go 'wide right.'
This from Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan:
I'll admit, I've been skeptical about the idea that Andrew Nicholson could be an NBA lottery pick by the time he graduates. There aren't many four-year college players who get picked that high nowadays. No Big 4 player has been picked in a modern, two-round draft, never mind in the top 14. But after watching Nicholson against Rhode Island on Saturday, I'm beginning to come around. He was magnificent. The junior from Toronto played the best game I've seen by a local big man in 22 years of watching Division I college basketball in this area.
Late in his junior year, a true NBA prospect should be the best player every time he steps on the floor in a mid-major conference. He should carry a team through difficult circumstances and be getting better when the calendar flips over to March.
Nicholson scored 20 points in the second half and shot 12 of 14 from the floor on the day. He was at his absolute best in a game the Bonnies needed to secure a home play-in game in the Atlantic 10 Tournament and their first overall winning season in nine years. He was great when his team needed it.
"Exactly right," said Bona coach Mark Schmidt. "Big-time players make big plays in big-time situations. There's no one in the country who could have played better than Andrew did at the start of the second half. Inside, outside. We jumped on his shoulders and he carried us for those seven, eight minutes."
He earned first-team all conference honours after putting up averages of 20.5 points and 7.2 rebounds on 57.7 per cent shooting this past season.
He's not merely an around-the-basket scorer and shot-blocker either - his reputation when he arrived as a freshman.
He's developed a mid-range game; can step out to the three-point line if the situation demands and has the length and quickness to be a factor at the other end of the floor.
Playing in the much more high profile Big 12 Conference and two years younger, Thompson has put together a spectacular rookie season and as a result is moving deservedly and steadily up the NBA draft boards. Currently projected as a mid-to-late first round pick, Thompson's NBA career appears a matter of when, not if.
And Nicholson? The hype hasn't caught up with the production yet; and he's intent on getting a physics degree (having switched out of chemistry) but those who have seen Nicholson up close suggest that it will eventually.
"I've done one of his games every year he's been at Bonaventure and he's the perfect example of creep, crawl, walk, run," says Amstrong. "He's progressed every year and hasn't got the recognition some other guys have had, but can he play in the NBA? He's good man; I wouldn't count him out."
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