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So here's the scoop: The fellow who normally occupies this spot in cyberspace (you know him - the one with the legit basketball contacts and writing gig) is teetering on bankruptcy as the bills begin to flood in from his preseason European sojourn. Thus, he's spending the day trying to find creative ways of sneaking his nightly fix of Bruno Giacosa wines onto his expansive (expensive) expense claims.

In his place, he's asked me to take a tour around my basketball mind for your amusement. I promise not to bore you with too many references to many area of expertise - 1990s CIS basketball and, in particular, the exploits of the McMaster men's and women's program. Though, it must be noted that I am slightly distracted by the Marauder men's OUA opener tonight against the No. 1 Carleton Ravens.

As we begin your links-heavy tour, it's worth noting that the Hamilton Spectator is filled with interesting basketball stories this morning. There's a profile on Marauders head coach Joe Raso's on-the-fly rebuilding effort heading into tonight's game. As well, Ron Foxcroft, inventor of the Fox 40 whistle and one of Canada's most decorated basketball officials, has received yet another honour of recognition.

But perhaps the most interesting story is Thursday's announcement of an ABA expansion franchise, led by general manager and ex-Raptor Chris Childs, landing at Copps Coliseum. I'm pessimistic to say the least. This the latest in a long list of attempts to build up minor-league basketball in southern Ontario. Anyone remember the Niagara Daredevils? That ABA franchise, based in St. Catharines, lasted only a few short weeks in 2005 before financial woes forced them to fold. A few years ago, the ABA was willing to hand over a franchise to you or I if our expansion deposit cheque didn't bounce, but in recent years, it's reeled itself in. Whether the franchise can attract spectators to see an occasional recognizable former NCAA star or local CIS graduate remains to be seen. Elsewhere, though Canada West's season is well under way, the other CIS conferences follow suit this weekend. Mark Wacyk's CIS blog is constantly referenced around here, but it's always worth a look on Friday for a weekend preview. The NCAA non-conference season is also getting into full swing (as Kentucky fans, like myself, can attest to after Wednesday's debacle). There's so much Canadian talent south of the border that it's almost impossible to keep track, thus I often pick a few players or teams to watch closely each year. Though I've never been overly enthralled with the Cinderella love bestowed on Gonzaga like many others, the Zags are worth watching this season. Frenchman centre Robert Sacre from North Vancouver is one of the highest-profile Canadian newcomers in Division 1 and he's made an immediate impact. Check out the boxscore from the team's lone exhibition game, a win over Emporia State (who?) on Wednesday. Sacre scored 11 points in only 15 minutes of action. Even more impressive is the fact that much of that production came from the charity stripe, where he was 7 for 13.

The Zags also feature Theo Davis from Brampton, Ont., who took a far-from-direct route to the West Coast. After starting his high school career in the Toronto area, Davis attended Cardozo High School in Queens, N.Y., (which has produced several New York-area legends, including Rafer Alston) and then, after failing to qualify for his scholarship at Iowa State University, Philadelphia Lutheran Christian Academy (which later was penalized by the NCAA for its academic standards).

Last year, Davis, who was ranked as a high Top 100 high-school prospect in the U.S. while at Cardozo, had a nightmare year. He was forced to redshirt after shoulder surgery in the fall and then found the headlines when he was arrested with team star Josh Heytvelt for drug possession. Both have since been reinstated by the team. Heytvelt is considered a potential NBA first-round pick in 2009 by several early mock drafts. ESPN's Andy Katz wrote a good feature on Heytvelt and the incident earlier this week. Hooptown GTA released its first Super 16 rankings of Toronto-area teams this week. The Pickering Trojans, last year's provincial champions, grabbed the top spot. The Trojans' star Devoe Joseph, a member of the junior national team, is considered the top-ranked Canadian player in his age group. Rivals.com has him ranked No. 82 in North America in the Class of 2008. Joseph seems to have narrowed his list of potential schools to the University of Kansas and University of Minnesota, which has had a resurgent recruiting campaign under new head coach Tubby Smith. Smith gets his chance to sell himself this weekend as Joseph makes his official visit to the school.

Smith's predecessor at Kentucky, Rick Pitino, is hot on the trail of Canada's best player in the class of 2009, Junior Cadougan, a point guard attending Houston's Christian Life Center Academy. Pitino's last Canadian recruit certainly has had a fine career.

A couple of quick links to finish us off: - For those X's and O's junkies, like myself, here's a wonderful blog that breaks down the intricacies of the game - Statistical analysis remains in its infancy and has become the source of several heated debates between believers and pessimists (ESPN's Henry Abbott had done a terrific job, as expected, following several of these tiffs, like this one). The recently launched Basketball Prospectus, which has been NCAA-heavy thus far, has an interesting piece on identifying breakout players in the NBA. Here's hoping that BP can become even a fraction of the operation that it's baseball cousin, a daily addiction for yours truly. - Tonight's marquee NBA match-up is Milwaukee at Houston (a.k.a. Yao vs. Yi) with a record-setting audience expected. In case you missed, the Houston Press recently had a solid feature on new Rockets GM Daryl Morey, who is considered one of the new breed of executives utilizing statistics as a key component of his job.

- And finally, scanning the daily list, happy birthday goes out to Denver's J.R. Smith, who turns 22 today. Smith looked poised for a breakthrough season in 06-07 until knee injury slowed his progress. Thus, he's still one of many straight-from-high-school NBAers yet to live up to his billing (a squad captained, of course, by Darius Miles). Smith's impact has been muted, but he's still a favourite of the YouTube highlight community, providing a chance to relive the 2005 dunk contest featuring his battle with eventual winner Josh Smith and Steve Nash's fancy footwork). Here's another decent tribute mix, which I'm linking to solely to become the first Globe employee to reference the music of Zion I & The Grouch.

Grange will return soon.

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