Montrealer Bennedict Mathurin goes sixth in NBA draft in banner year for Canadian basketball
Montrealer Bennedict Mathurin was picked sixth Thursday in the NBA draft, realizing a dream for the 20-year-old after he rose to prominence quickly over the last few years.
Mathurin and a fellow Canadian who was drafted seventh, Shaedon Sharpe, took very different paths to the NBA, but they made a banner year for Canadian basketball when they were picked just minutes apart on Thursday.
Mathurin, who starred at the University of Arizona, was selected by the Indiana Pacers. Moments later the Blazers took a chance on Sharpe, a 19-year-old from London, Ont., who didn't play a single college game, with the seventh pick.
"I feel like I'm a winner," said Mathurin. "I'm a really competitive guy. Off the court, I feel I'm a pretty funny guy. I like doing a lot of fun stuff."
Mathurin, who grew up in Montreal North and whose parents are from Haiti -- he speaks English, French, Spanish and Creole -- hugged his mom and sister before walking up to the Barclay Center stage.
He drew rave reviews for his burgundy and black floral suit.
It's only the second time in history that two Canadians have gone in the top 10 in the NBA draft. In 2014, Andrew Wiggins was taken first overall by Cleveland, and Sacramento took Nik Stauskas with the No. 8 pick.
Two more Canadians went back to back in the second round. Gonzaga guard Andrew Nembhard joined Mathurin at Indiana, selected by the Pacers at No. 31, while Caleb Houstan was selected at No. 32 by Orlando.
The Pacers now have three Canadians, along with Toronto native Oshae Brissett.
"Canadian Pacers," Brissett tweeted.
Canada has had 37 players chosen since the draft went to two rounds in 1989, the second most of any country behind the U.S.
"What a night, for four young men who have achieved their dreams by working hard and representing Canada with pride. And Canada is proud of them! See thee rise," tweeted Canada Basketball CEO Mike Bartlett.
Mathurin joins a Pacers team that finished a lowly 25-47 last season.
The six-foot-six guard/forward became the first Canadian to attend the NBA Academy in Mexico City back in 2018. The draft broadcast showed live footage of the current academy players cheering him on.
Mathurin then played two seasons at the University of Arizona, winning the Pac-12 Tournament's most outstanding player honours, and averaging 17.4 points and 5.6 rebounds a game this year.
He scored 30 points in a big game in the second round of March Madness, helping Arizona beat Texas Christian University in overtime.
Broadcasters compared Mathurin's game to the Toronto Raptors' OG Anunoby.
"We have a pretty good team and I'm looking forward to having an impact right away," Mathurin said.
"The staff was really good to me when I went there for my team workout. I feel like they believe in me. Having people trust in my game is great."
After his pick was announced, social media saw a flood of posts from proud Montrealers.View this post on Instagram
Sharpe, a 6-6 wing, was a five-star recruit when he enrolled at Kentucky in January. But he never played for the Wildcats, and while it was expected that would change in 2022-23, he raised eyebrows by declaring for the draft instead. He hasn't played significant five-on-five action since a high school game in October.
"Going from high school to college and not playing your college season and then straight to the NBA, it's quite the journey. But every step of the way I've just fought and had fun with it," Sharpe said.
Sharpe looks forward to playing with all-star guard Damian Lillard.
"He's a great guard himself and he's been in this league for some time now, so I just can't wait to really learn from him," Sharpe said.
Nembhard, who played for Canada's national team at the 2019 World Cup in China, spent four years in the NCAA, transferring from Florida to Gonzaga for his final two years. Gonzaga went undefeated in the 2020-21 regular season before losing to Baylor in the NCAA final. The Bulldogs were eliminated in the third round this year.
The 22-year-old from Aurora, Ont., showed well at the draft combine last month, dominating one five-on-five scrimmage with 26 points and 11 assists.
Houstan, a 19-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., averaged 10.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.4 assists with the University of Michigan this season.
Coach Nick Nurse said it was a great night for the Canadians.
"Four in the top 32? And two in the top seven? So really good," said Nurse, head coach of Team Canada and the Toronto Raptors.
"(Mathurin) obviously, it's a super high pick, but I thought he played great when I saw him, and obviously he played great for (Canada's under-19 team)."
Nurse added that Nembhard was "spectacular" when he came to Toronto for a workout.
"So another great night, really, for Canada, and basketball in the country," the coach said. "And congratulations to not only all those guys and their families but all the coaches who helped get those guys there."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2022, with files from CTV News.