When it comes to the largest number of foreign players in the NBA, only one country can be ranked in the number one spot. As of the most current NBA season, Canada has supplied the NBA with 34 basketball players ranging from anywhere from members of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame to busts that lasted only a year or two, dating all the way back to 1947 when Gino Sovran joined the Toronto Huskies in the BAA, Basketball Association of America.
The number of athletes to play in the NBA since 1947, regardless of their country of origin, is around 3,200, meaning that only about 1.1% of NBA players have hailed from the same country that produced its’ creator, Dr. James Naismith.
Dr.James Naismith, who many of you probably did not even realize, was born in Almonte, Ontario, Canada. He grew up in Canada and even went to college at McGill University in Montreal. It was not until 1891 that he moved to the United States and became a physical education teacher for the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts. He was eventually given an assignment to create an indoor game that would provide an athletic distraction for all of the rowdy kids that were growing tired of being forced to stay indoors during the very cold winter months. The head of the YMCA P.E. department gave him just 14 days to do it and the result was basketball.
It only took about two years before the sport exploded into an international success and then another six years before the University of Kansas began playing it. In honor of the Canadian inventor of basketball, and for all of those amazing Canadian superstars that hail from the wonderful country, here are the 15 best NBA players you didn’t realize were Canadian.
15. Joel Anthony, C, Montreal
Joel Anthony’s (#30) journey to the NBA started a very long time ago, long before he was even on anyone’s radar. When he was in high school, in Montreal, he was heavily recruited by Pensacola Junior College in Florida. He traveled thousands of miles to get there and played for two years, becoming one of the more talked about JUCO recruits in the country. UNLV, in Las Vegas, got him to transfer and come play for them and by the time he was a senior, he was a star. He led them to a 30-7 record with his defensive abilities and world-class shot blocking.
Although he was not drafted, he did earn himself a spot on the Miami Heat roster in the summer of 2007. He was never a superstar and he was not going to average 20 points a night but he was going to help be a defensive upgrade off the bench for them, which he was and he earned himself a career, eventually signing a 5-year, $18 million deal to play for them.
14. Anthony Bennett, PF, Toronto
Anthony Bennett took a similar path to the NBA as Joel Anthony, except his started a few years sooner. After growing up in Toronto, Bennett wound up heading to West Virginia and playing for the Mountain State Academy, in Beckley. Unfortunately, the school closed the following year and his family moved once again, this time to Henderson, Nevada so he could play for Findlay Prep. His traveling throughout high school turned him into quite the prospect and he was the seventh best player in the entire 2012 recruiting class, also being considered the number one power forward too. This is where his path caught up to Joel Anthony’s as he committed to UNLV.
He only played one season, 35 games, with the Runnin’ Rebels before declaring for the NBA draft. During his one season, he averaged 16.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, and 1 assist per game, shooting 53.3% from the field.
13. Andrew Nicholson, PF, Mississauga
Michael Jordan is not the only NBA player who got a late start when it came to basketball. When Andrew Nicholson was growing up, he did not even start playing until he was a Junior in high school before breaking his ankle, and missing most of that season and the summer league the following summer before his senior year. Nonetheless, he grew a ton that summer and became a 6’9″, 250 pound monster that ended up getting a two-star rating, leading to his eventual signing with St.Bonaventure.
His entire college career was an audition to play in the NBA and we got to watch him mature into a star college player, effectively increasing his numbers each season. He spent four years at St. Bonaventure, growing into a legitimate starting power forward, averaging 17.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game, for his collegiate career.
12. Cory Joseph, PG/SG, Toronto
Some families are built for basketball. Cory Joseph’s family was stocked full of basketball players, both former and current. His mother and father both played basketball, and not just for fun. They each played for Mount Royal College while his two sisters played for Minnesota and Oregon and his brother played in Europe. He even has two cousins that played, one of them even made it to the NBA. Kris Joseph played for the Boston Celtics and his other cousin, Maurice Joseph, played for Michigan State and Vermont and is now the head coach of George Washington University.
Talk about some good basketball genes, right?
Cory played high school basketball at the same place Joel Anthony played, Findlay Prep, along with his good friend Tristan Thompson. The moment he got to campus, he was a rising star on the verge of a breakout. He had another teammate you might have heard of too, his name is Avery Bradley. His success got him to the University of Texas and after one year, the NBA.
11. Nik Stauskas, SG, Mississauga
when Nik Stauskas was in 5th grade, his parents gave him and his brother a choice about their backyard. Did they want a putting green, swimming pool, or basketball court? He obviously chose the latter and it helped him become a future star. He would later sign with the University of Michigan, after showing up at just about every single summer camp and training camp he could attend throughout his high school playing days. He hustled to get to Michigan and when he got there, he quickly became one of the best players on the team.
By his sophomore season, he was earning awards left and right, being named to countless watch lists and short lists as one of the nation’s best players. His accuracy was a thing of beauty, and his career 3-point shooting percentage at Michigan, 44.1%, is ranked 5th on their all time list.
10. Dwight Powell, PF/C, Toronto
Dwight Powell (#7) has done something that has become very rare in today’s NBA. He decided to play all four years of college basketball at Stanford, helping to create a future for himself in the NBA. He was a great player growing up and slowly earned a reputation around the country as one of the best scoring power forwards in the 2010 recruiting class. After spending those four years with Stanford, he would then get his shot at the big show, where the Charlotte Hornets drafted him in the second round of the 2014 NBA draft.
The next few months would become very long and stressful for him as he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers on July 12th before signing with them on August 23rd. They then turned around and traded him to the Boston Celtics on September 25th, where he would eventually get to play in his first NBA game, on November 14th. But by December, he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, where he remains today.
9. Jamal Murray, SG, Kitchener
By the time you are finished reading this article, you will understand one thing, that Canada is starting to produce some seriously talented ball players. Jamal Murray is another one as he left the University of Kentucky after his freshman season and declared himself eligible for the draft. He went on to slowly become a significant player on the Denver Nuggets, scoring 20 points or more eight different times. In fact, in his final four games, he scored 27 and 30 points while also adding a 10 points and 10 assist double-double performance against the Dallas Mavericks in a huge 18-point win.
His ability to score landed him a spot on the University of Kentucky basketball team after he was heavily recruited by their head coach, John Calipari. In his one season with the team, he averaged 20 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 2.2 assists, and shot 40.8% from three-point range. His outside shooting adds another variable to his overall value and could earn him a role as the starting shooting guard in Denver next season.
8. Ernie Vandeweghe, SG/SF, Montreal
Ernie Vandeweghe might have been born in Montreal, Quebec but he was as American as they come. After spending his teenage years playing for Oceanside High School in Long Island, Ernie ended up going on to play in college for the Colgate University Raiders until 1949 when he was drafted by the New York Knicks. But that is where he begins to become a superstar. It was not because of his on-court skills rather it was what he did off the court.
He had to sit out a season to finish medical school because he was becoming a physician. Once he retired from the NBA, Ernie went on to become a physician in the U.S. Air Force, and was eventually stationed in Germany. He later became the chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, served on the Olympic Sports Commission, and worked along side President Gerald Ford with assisting in the development of two important pieces of sports legislation, Title IX and the 1976 Amateur Athletic Act.
7. Tristan Thompson, PF/C, Toronto
Since joining the NBA in 2011, Tristan Thompson has become a solid starting center for the Cleveland Cavaliers now that LeBron James and Kevin Love have come to town to join Kyrie Irving. He plays a role that fits this kind of lineup. They do not need a high-paid post player like a Shaquille O’Neal or David Robinson. They just need an athletic big man that can rebound and play solid defense, which Tristan Thompson most certainly can do.
Before he got to the NBA, Tristan Thompson grew up playing basketball at Findlay Prep, with fellow Canadian Cory Joseph, before being recruited and signed by the University of Texas. His college career lasted one season, 36 games, in which he averaged 13.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game. He was, at that time, the highest drafted Canadian born NBA player in league history when the Cavaliers took him fourth overall in the 2011 NBA Draft.
6. Bob Houbregs, PF/C, Vancouver
The only Canadian born member of the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame is none other than legendary Pistons big man, Bob Houbregs. He is most remembered for his defensive abilities, averaging 9.3 points and 5.5 rebounds throughout his entire NBA career, which was shorter than most Hall of Famers, and also less incredible when you consider the numbers. He only played five seasons before it was all over and in that time, earned himself the respect and admiration of just about everyone that could vote for him and by 1987, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
As the first and only Canadian to be a part of such an accomplished organization, Bob Houbregs opened up the path for more future international players to reach their ultimate basketball dreams of playing in the NBA.
5. Rick Fox, SF, Toronto
Of all the great names on this list, one of the most underrated stars of them all was Rick Fox. He was a worker that did the little things right, each and every night. He was a role player for many years and even started at the small forward position for both the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. He earned his spot on the team, averaging 9.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game, in only 25.5 minutes a night. He was not just a role player, he was a leader in the locker room and on the court. He could be considered the glue that held the Kobe-Shaq feud at bay.
But before he became known as a key role player during the Lakers 1999 to 2002 three-peat, Rick Fox was a just a kid growing up in Toronto. His mother, Dianne Gerace, was a World-Class athlete too, having competed at the 1964 Summer Olympics in both the High Jump and the Pentathlon.
4. Jamaal Magloire, C, Toronto
Anthony Davis, Willie Cauley-Stein, Sam Bowie, Karl-Anthony Towns, Nerlens Noel, and DeMarcus Cousins all share one thing in common, not a single one of them has more blocks than Jamaal Magloire at the University of Kentucky. Magloire’s 286 career blocks is the best in school history, and it remains the best ever, even after so many talented superstars have passed through the school. Granted, if Anthony Davis or Nerlens Noel played a second season then they would have beaten the record. But they did not so they do not get to talk about owning it, only Magloire can.
His time at Kentucky led to their 1998 National Championship and it earned him enough respect that he would get drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in the 2000 NBA draft, with the 19th overall pick. He played five years for the Hornets, who moved to New Orleans in 2002, averaging 9.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game. He was a very talented starting Center that was eventually traded to Milwaukee.
3. Kelly Olynyk, C, Toronto
Of all of the Canadian-born NBA players, Kelly Olynyk has one of the most unique roads to the pros. He did not move to the United States, choosing to stay at home and play high school basketball in Canada. He did, however, travel the United States during the summer, playing for AAU teams, non-AAU teams, and the Canadian junior national team. He decided to play college ball for Gonzaga because it was closer to his home.
He slowly emerged as a superstar, spending his first two seasons learning the sport and perfecting his new game as a Center. He grew up playing point guard because he was 6’3″ during his junior year in high school before exploding into a giant that same year, growing to 6’11” while still playing like a guard. So he had to learn to be a big man like it was his first time playing.
In his final season with Gonzaga, he averaged 17.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game, while leading the Bulldogs to a 32-3 record and making it to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament. This led to his 1st round NBA draft pick selection.
2. Andrew Wiggins, SF, Toronto
Besides raw potential and future upside, one of the ways to notice when a player is going to be something special is when they spend the first few years in the league growing, learning, and increasing their knowledge of the game by leading by example.
Andrew Wiggins has done just that. Since being the number one pick in the 2014 NBA draft, he has improved his overall game, including turning his scoring average each season from 16.9 during his rookie season to 23.6 this past season while improving his outside shooting percentage to 47.3%. If you were curious as to when LeBron James went from rookie to superstar, it was the summer he learned how to shoot the three point jump shot regularly. That is what is going on today. Wiggins shot 289 triples this season after just shooting 126 and 190 3-pointers in his first two seasons.
1. Steve Nash, PG, British Columbia
There is no denying that, of all the NBA players on this list, Steve Nash is the best overall talent. Although he was officially born in Johannesburg, South Africa, he was just 18 months old when his family moved to Regina, Saskatchewan, followed by Victoria, British Colombia. So whether you knew it already or not, Steve Nash is as Canadian as bacon, hockey, and maple syrup.
For 18 seasons, Steve Nash was one of the best point guards in the NBA, regularly leading the league in assists six different times. He finished his career with a 8.5 assists per game average but averaged more than 10.5 per game in a season, seven different times. But his most coveted trophy has to be his back-to-back MVP awards he earned between 2004 and 2006. He almost won it a third straight season, in 2007 but lost to former teammate Dirk Nowitzki.
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