Heading into Alabama's Sweet 16 matchup against the San Diego St. Aztecs on Friday night, the Crimson Tide remain betting favorites to win the National Championship. They have elite scoring, fantastic depth, and a few players, like Jhavon Quinerly, with experience playing on the sport's biggest stages. But Charles Bediako is Bama's big man in the middle.
Lots of internet ink has been spilled over the Crimson Tide's star player Brandon Miller. Miller is a projected top 3 pick in this year's NBA Draft. He has had one of the most impressive freshman seasons in recent memory, displaying a preternatural shooting touch from the outside that should instantly translate into buckets at the next level. Much of that is overshadowed by the off the court controversy surrounding his involvement in the murder of Jamea Jonae Harris on January 15.
Alabama's Man in the Middle
But for now, let's take a moment to celebrate another transcendent Alabama talent. Charles Bediako is the 7 foot man in the middle for the Tide. He is a lynchpin in Alabama's smothering defense. A lot of Alabama's gameplan revolves around funneling action towards the paint where Bediako is in position to erase shots at the rim. It's worked pretty well this season, as Bediako averages almost 2 blocks per game and Alabama ranks in the top 5 in defensive efficiency on the season. While the big man only averages 6 points and 6 rebounds in just 20 minutes per game, he has a huge impact while he's on the floor.
Bediako is also trying to become the latest in a growing pipeline that is seeing Canadian born players enter the NBA. Bediako is from Brampton, Ontario, a city just west of Toronto. He went to high school at IMG Academy, a sports feeder program in Florida that has had 16 graduates selected in the NBA Draft, including Anfernee Simons and Mark Williams. Bediako runs the floor well for a guy his size, and is a classic rim-running big man in the mold of Clint Capela or Robert Williams III.
A New Canadian Tradition - Basketball?
While it used to be the case that the only professional athletes from Canada were found in the hockey rink, basketball has really picked up north of the border in recent years. Steve Nash is the OG of Canada's influence in the NBA. Nash came down from British Columbia to star at Santa Clara before embarking on a Hall of Fame NBA career. More recently, Canada has given us Andrew "Maple Jordan" Wiggins, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and R.J. Barrett to name a few. In addition to Bediako, Brampton is home to two top five picks in the NBA Draft - Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett. Bediako is hoping to go the Thompson route and carve out a respectable career instead of being labeled a generational bust like Bennett.
There are a number of reasons for this explosion in Canadian basketball. A lot of it can be traced to the popularity of the Toronto Raptors, who joined the NBA in 1995. According to Rowan Barrett, general manager of the Canadian men's team, "Many of our players have been on record saying that they remember watching Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady and going down to the stadium and saying, 'OK, that's who I am. I'm not a hockey player. I'm taller than everyone else and I'm athletic."
With more kids falling in love with basketball, Canada followed suit with an increase in opportunities for those kids to hoop. Junior academies popped up around the country in the past decade, trying to identify talented kids as young as 11 or 12 years old. That increased level of coaching and exposure to high level basketball has paid dividends, as alumni of that program are starting to compete at the highest collegiate and professional levels.
Capitalizing on that development, the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association was formed to increase the level of competition and organization among Ontario high school basketball programs. Jamal Murray is the most prominent player to participate in the OSBA, as he graduated from high school in Canada before heading to play for Coach Calipari at the University of Kentucky.
A Budding Basketball Superpower
All of this sounds pretty familiar to American hoops fans. Our systems of youth recreational leagues, AAU, high school basketball and the like have been in place for decades and decades. But for Canada, it's all a relatively new process, and their national team can expect to start reaping the benefits. A look at the Team Canada Under 23 team shows a number of players currently playing in the Sweet 16, including Bediako, Texas guard Marcus Carr, and Creighton's Ryan Nembhard.
And at the senior level, Team Canada is on a mission to qualify for the 2024 Olympics. On their journey, the team will head to the World Cup this summer. While the rosters haven't been set yet, a Canadian lineup could feature the likes of Gilgeous-Alexander, Murray, and Barrett, alongside Kelly Olynk, Dwight Powell, Lu Dort, Benedict Matharin, and Dillon Brooks, who would presumably serve as the team's enforcer. That's a legit contender in any basketball tournament.
Can Bediako Join the Ranks?
Bediako is probably not going to crack the Canadian Olympic team anytime soon. That's more a reflection of Canada's depth than the big man's abilities. Right now, most draft experts have Bediako going in the second round, or perhaps not being drafted at all. His game is still a little raw for the average scout's liking.
But a big finish in the NCAA Tournament has catapulted plenty of marginal picks into the first round in the past. Crimson Tide fans and Canadians alike will be hoping for a similar story this time around.
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