True North: A look at some of the top Canadians to watch in the NBA this year by Philip Drost

The 2018-2019 NBA season is nearly upon us. Here’s the details on some of the Canadians you should be keeping your eyes on this season.


Jamal Murray

Jamal Murray will likely be on this top five list for the foreseeable future, as he continues to be one of the best basketball players for Canada.

Last season, Murray was able to increase his point production from 9.9 points a game in his rookie season, to 16.7 in his sophomore year. The shooting efficiency that troubled Murray in his rookie season was but a memory, as the Blue Arrow shot 45 per cent on the year.

One of the most exciting parts of last season was watching how well Jamal Murray played off of star Nuggets big-man Nikola Jokic. The two were more in sync than any Justin Timberlake boy band.

The Nuggets were a loss-to-the-Timberwolves short of making the playoffs in 2018, and with the young talent of Denver returning, it should be an exciting year for Murray and his squad.

Dillon Brooks


Dillon Brooks wasn’t expected to get many minutes as a second round pick for the Memphis Grizzlies last season, but as you can read here, he made the most of the time he got and quickly became a starter.

Brooks averaged 11 points a game for Grizzlies and played in all 82 games. He started in all but eight of those games and finished off the season with a 36 point game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Dillon Brooks is projected to be back in the starting lineup, which should be no surprise. In Episode 32, it was made clear Brooks has an elite work ethic and drive to get better. It will be interesting to see what improvements he made to his game during the off season.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander wasn’t on the minds of many casual fans at this time last year, but John McAloon called it when he came on Episode 22 to talk about some of the Canadians to watch in the NCAA.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander took over during his freshman year at Kentucky, and played well enough to convince the Los Angeles team without LeBron James to pick him with the 11th pick in this year’s draft (well the Hornets drafted him, then traded the rights).

It will be interesting to see where Shai manages to fit into the rotation. Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley figure to start with the Clippers, with sweet Lou Williams takes his typical role as the sixth man, but Shai should be the next guard up. And on injury or Jimmy Butler trade could change everything.

But one thing is for sure. The 6’6” guard will be getting minutes, and has the ability make an immediate impact with his defensive skills and play-making ability

Andrew Wiggins

There are so many questions surrounding Andrew Wiggins and his game, and this year could be the year we get answers. Wiggins is an athletic freak and a scoring machine, but hasn’t been able to knock down the three ball consistently, and has been poor defensively.

Many thought last season with was going to be a big one for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The team acquired all-star Jimmy Butler and spent some time at the top of the West, but when Butler got injured, the Wolves fell.

Now it seems Butler’s future with the Wolves is near an end, which will give Wiggins opportunity to be the second option once again. Wiggins is still only 23, and with the athletic tools he has, there’s a lot to get excited about. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, including a clutch buzzer beater against the OKC Thunder, but he needs to start showing more.

R.J. Barrett


I know what you’re thinking. R.J. Barrett isn’t in the NBA… yet. But with Barrett projected to be a top pick in the upcoming draft, many tanking NBA teams will be sending their scouts to Duke Blue Devil games to watch the young star.

So while Barrett isn’t on a pro roster, you can keep an eye on the bottom of the NBA standings to see where he might end up next season.

How Dillon Brooks went from a 'pudgy' player to an NBA starter by Philip Drost

Photos by Maria Jose Burgos

Photos by Maria Jose Burgos

On a May evening in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Dillon Brooks enters the Bliss Carman Middle School gym to the sound of Drake’s new single, "Nice for What". The kids, who likely haven’t seen too many NBA players up close, are smiling and clapping for the Memphis Grizzlies small forward. 

Brooks is hosting a basketball camp in the province’s capital, just a month after completing his rookie season. 

The kids get a chance to ask Brooks questions. Some ask what it was like to guard Lebron James, while others ask if he prefers shooting or defence. 

But throughout all his answers, it’s easy to see what led Brooks to score 11 points a game and starting all but eight games in his first season as a pro; heart and work ethic. 

Heart and Hard Work

Brooks’ NBA season ended on a Wednesday, but instead of taking a break and going on vacation to somewhere tropical, Brooks went back to the gym. By Saturday he was working out at his alma mater, the University of Oregon.

My coaches always told me, you know you’re not the tallest guy, you’re not the fastest guy, but you have the most heart.
— Dillon Brooks

Brooks spent three years with the Oregon Ducks and his talent and heart helped lead the team to the Final Four, but when he first showed up for practice in 2014, he wasn’t exactly in the same shape as the player who scored 36 points in the final game of the 2017-2018 NBA season.

“When we got him he was a chunky, pudgy, hard playing kid,” said Ducks assistant coach Kevin McKenna.

Brooks said he would hear it from his teammate at the time, Golden State Warriors rookie Jordan Bell.

“Everyday he would call me fat-boy,” said Brooks.

Brooks had a weakness, a classic Canadian treat. 

“I would eat 20, 30 chocolate timbits. Me and my little brother, we would buy 50 chocolate timbits and eat them.” 


But McKenna, who had a six-year NBA career of his own which included a championship with Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers, said by the time he was done at Oregon he was a “streamline machine.”

Brooks realized how important diet was. One summer while playing for Team Canada in Greece, Brooks gave himself a strict diet, and when he went back to university, he said people couldn’t even recognize him. 

“I was so skinny, and I lost weight in my face… it made me a lot better,” said Brooks.
“My coaches always told me, you know you’re not the tallest guy, you’re not the fastest guy, but you have the most heart.”

The Turning Point


Brooks was the only rookie to play all 82 games during the season, and he started in all but eight of them. 

The NBA season is a long one, and Brooks confesses that in the middle of the season he got tired. He was tired of playing basketball, and losing games. 

It wasn’t the first time Brooks grew frustrated with basketball. One time when Brooks was 12 years old, his mother was driving him to a practice 45 minutes from home in the middle of a snowstorm. Brooks suggested that perhaps they turn the car around and skip the practice.

“My mom said, ‘You know if you don’t go to practice now I will probably never ever drive you to another basketball thing ever again,” said Brooks. 

There, pulled over on the side of the road, Brooks made the commitment to becoming the best basketball player he could be, even if it meant driving 45 minutes in the middle of a snowstorm. 

“My dream was always to be in the NBA. My mom knew that too, so she knew that giving me that little push and giving me that choice would benefit me in the long run.”

Draft Day


On June 22, 2017, Dillon Brooks’ dream came true. 

Lead up to the draft, Brooks worked out with 15 teams. But on draft night, none of those teams picked him. Brooks was selected 45th overall by the Houston Rockets and promptly traded to the Memphis Grizzlies. 

I just wanted to crush them and show every team that they made a mistake that they didn’t pick me.
— Dillon Brooks

Brooks was in Toronto on draft day, surrounded by family and friends. But he was nervous. So many people had shown up to celebrate with him. What if he didn’t get picked?

“Once I seen my name got picked I was so happy,” said Brooks. 

Brooks was happy to land in Memphis, but he feels that if the NBA draft was to be redone, he would be a lottery pick.

During the season, having 29 teams that didn’t pick him game him motivation.  

“There was so many different rookies that had the opportunities to play, and I just wanted to crush them and show every team that they made a mistake that they didn’t pick me.”

Brooks conquered every goal he set for himself. He wanted to start. Eight games into the season, he locked down the starting spot. He wanted to be a part of All-Star Weekend. During the Rising Stars Challenge there, Brooks helped Team World beat Team USA. Brooks wanted to average double digits in scoring, and he was able to do so. 

First Season Struggles

Brooks’ first season had its ups and downs. The Memphis Grizzlies were dealt some tough injuries, including star point guard Mike Conley going down with a season-ending injury. 

The Grizzlies struggled, finishing with one of the worst records in the NBA. 


“There was a point, I think it was after 30 or 40 games, where it was like so much basketball. We’re losing. I’d never lost this much in my life. I’d never been on 11 game, 19 game losing streaks,” said Brooks.  

“Every time I would go out there I would say, why am I playing? We are losing every game.”

Brooks leaned on some of his teammates, especially Tyreke Evans, who had been in similar situations. Evans helped Brooks look past the losing, and focus on getting better. 

After just 19 games, Grizzlies coach David Fizdale was fired, and assistant J. B. Bickerstaff took his place. Brooks was confused at first. He had never gone through a mid-season coaching change. 

Brooks talked to some of his teammates, who told him to just keep playing basketball. After a discussion with his new coach, Bickerstaff told him he would be keeping his starting role.

New Goals


It’s Brooks’ first time hosting a basketball camp in his mother’s home province of New Brunswick. While many top talents chose to host their camps in Ontario, Brooks wanted to do something different. 

He hopes that by having his camp here, he can help inspire the next generation of top Canadian talent. 

“I want to see in every camp, one of these kids take on the challenge of wanting to go to the NBA,” said Brooks. 

As far as his next NBA season is concerned, Brooks wants to see the Grizzlies back in the NBA playoffs. 

“This year we struggled with camaraderie, working as a team, playing as a team, and we know that as a group, and we’re going to work on that next season.”

As far as personal achievements, Brooks wants to stay healthy, keep that starting role, and score more than last season.

And with the work ethic and heart Brooks has displayed so far, it’s going to be hard for anyone to keep him from accomplishing those goals. 

Canadian Content: Who to watch during March Madness by Philip Drost


It's the time of year when dreams come true, upsets shock the nation, people burn their brackets within five days of making them, and fans get to watch some of the most exciting basketball on the planet. Yes, it's time for the NCAA March Madness tournament. 

Before you go and make your Canada's Court Bracket, for your chance to get a shout out on an episode, let's take a look at some of the top Canadians competing on the men's side of the tournament. 

Oshae Brissett - Syracuse

Oshae Brissett and the Syracuse Orangemen barely squeak into the tournament. They play Arizona State on Wednesday as part of the First Four play-in tournament, and if they win that they play the six seeded TCU Horned Frogs. 

Brissett is had a terrific season for the Orangemen, averaging 14.7 points and 8.8 boards. Look for him to have a big game as he tried to keep 'Cuse alive

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander - Kentucky

If you're looking for a player to have a big impact on his team's success, and potentially go far in the tournament, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is your guy. The Kentucky Wildcats come into the tournament as the five seed and have the potential to make some noise.

If they do, it will be because Gilgeous Alexander is keeping up his top-notch level of play. During the season he averaged 13.4 points a game, along with 5.1 assists and a handful of boards. 

Kassius Robertson - Missouri

In the day and age of space and pace, with three-point shots flying left and right, Kassius Robertson is a guy to watch. Kassius Robertson will be playing with top NBA prospect Michael Porter Jr. as the eighth-seeded Missouri Tigers try to get past Florida State and make a run at a championship. 

Robertson has been knocking down 3.1 threes a game this season, on a shooting percentage of .425. Robertson averaged 16.2 points a game as well for the Tigers. 

Kimbal MacKenzie- Bucknell

If you like an underdog, Kimbal MacKenzie is your man. Mackenzie and the Bucknell Bisons have to play the third-seeded Michigan State Spartans to start the tournament off.

Mackenzie had to sit out the entire month of December due to injury, but when he came back he averaged over 10 points a game for the Bisons, hit a game-winning buzzer beater, and helped his team win the Patriot League. 

The Bench Connection: Raptors' future is making an impact now by Philip Drost


As the Raptors get ready for their game against the Portland Trailblazers in their first game of February, a loss to the Washington Wizards in D.C. the night before is in the back of their minds. The Raptors lost by 3, and all-stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan both logged heavy minutes. 

In that loss, the Raptors bench struggled, forcing Toronto head coach Dwayne Casey to rely more heavily on his starters.


"They just didn't have the pop and the movement and organization they normally have, and then defensively they weren't into it," said Casey before the Trailblazers game. 

"They're always important for us, to come in and do the job. They lessen the minutes on the starters, but they're not going to be out there if they're not going to do the job."

Dwayne Casey has said this season that it's going to be a priority to shoot for the top seed in the East, but he also has to balance that with making sure his stars get some rest now and then. And the bench mob is the squad that can make that a much easier line to tread. 



It was clear early on in the game that the Raptors stars would get some rest, and that the bench would have the opportunity for redemption.

With three minutes left in the first quarter, all starters but DeMar DeRozan have gone to the bench and the Raptors lead 25-15. That DeRozan plus bench unit, staring Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Delon Wright went on a 10-3 run to end the quarter. 

And that proved to be indicative of the rest of the game. The Portland Trailblazers bench finished with 25 points, while the Raptors bench over doubled that with 53 points.

We are definitely going to keep growing, and the more we play together, the more we’re going to know what each other’s tendencies.
— Pascal Siakam

The Raptors bench has the best plus/minus of any bench in the league, at a +3.3. Trailing the Raptors are some of the league's top contenders, with the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, and the Golden State Warriors rounding out the top four. 

Fred VanVleet, who finished with 16 points and five boards off the bench, said that Coach Casey called the bench out after the loss to the Wizards. 

He said Casey told them to, "come off the bench and be ready and play with energy and focus, and there's no room for error."

Pascal Siakam said it was a case of the bench unit "having our swagger back" and playing with more energy. 

"We weren't proud of our performance last night, so we definitely wanted to come out and show something better and show that wasn't us last night."

Still room to grow


From watching the game against the Blazers, and a couple days later against the Memphis Grizzlies, it's not hard to see the team has chemistry. Before playing the Grizzlies, the team is playing a little playful volleyball with the ball, and warming their hands to the fire (at a safe distance) spitting from the hoop during the pre-game introductions. 

And part of that chemistry comes from the time the bench unit spent together in the summer. Some of the young players, such as Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, and Pascal Siakam, along with some of the Raptors' other youngsters, all spent time together in Los Angeles as well as in Los Vegas for the NBA's Summer League. 

Pascal Siakam, who finished with 13 points and four offensive rebounds, said it's only going to get better.

"We are definitely going to keep growing, and the more we play together, the more we're going to know what each other's tendencies are, and the better we're going to perform." 

Jamal Murray and Dillon Brooks to play in Rising Stars challenge by Philip Drost

Jamal Murray will have a chance to win back to back MVP trophies at the Rising Stars challenge this year, but he will have some tough competition. 

Murray of the Denver Nuggets will be joined by fellow Canadian Dillon Brooks of the Memphis Grizzlies on the World team as part of the All-Star weekend festivities. 

Brooks gets the nod after quickly cementing himself as a major part of the Grizzlies rotation from game one this season, and starting 39 of the team's 47 games so far. 

It's no surprise that Murray has been invited back to the game. Murray scored 36 points in last year's competition, along with dishing out 11 assists. This season he is averaging 16 points on a Nuggets team trying desperately to make the playoffs. 

Murray will need another hot shooting night in order to reclaim the MVP trophy. His World teammate Joel Embiid will be tough competition. Embiid has put up monster games already this season and has a personality that is likely to thrive in the Rising Stars game. 

 Since the switch to the U.S. versus World format, there have always been at least two Canadians on the team.  Murray is not the first Canadian to win a Risings Stars MVP. Andrew Wiggins won the award in 2015 while scoring 22 points. 


Jamal Murray and Trey Lyles are, as the kids say, straight FIRE by Philip Drost

If you are interested in watching Canadians ball out in the NBA, you should really be watching as many Denver Nuggets games as you possibly can. 

First off, the Nuggets are the only team in the NBA that has two Canadians (Jamal Murray and Trey Lyles) on the roster, so right away you're getting more of a bang for your buck. 

Second, both those dudes have been on fire as of late.

It was expected that Jamal Murray would have  prominent role on the Nuggets this season, but with Paul Milsap coming in, it seemed like there was less space for Lyles. But factor in an injury to Milsap, and Lyles is getting a chance to shine. 

Over the past two weeks, Jamal Murray is averaging 21.7 points, 2.6 threes, and just over five boards a game. Murray doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon, and if anything, he's getting more consistent.

Meanwhile, Lyles isn't too far behind. In the last two weeks he is averaging 19.6 points, 8.3 boards, and 2.4 threes a game. Lyles has had 12 straight games of scoring double digits, and if he gets these minutes, it's hard to imagine his production slowing down.

The two former Kentucky players are getting big minutes, and making them count. So give them a watch. 


From P.E.I to the Celtics: Scott Morrison's NBA journey by Philip Drost


As Boston Celtics assistant coach Scott Morrison prepares for a big early season game against the Toronto Raptors, it's hard to believe that just a few years ago he was doing laundry in the NBA's developmental league. It wasn't exactly a prestigious moment in his life, but it helped him get to where he wanted to go. 

Scott Morrison's journey began in the small province of Prince Edward Island. Morrison says he was born with a bit of an advantage. His father, George Morrison, was a top coach on the island, and was recently inducted into the provinces sports hall of fame. 

Morrison got his first head coaching gig at the age of 23 with the Dalhousie University women's basketball team. From there, he would take an extended stay with Lakehead University.

It ain't all easy

Despite having a very successful final five years at Lakehead, it was a struggle at first.


 "When I got there, I was 25, I thought I would be coaching the Knicks in three years. I thought I knew everything and had the world in the palm of my hand, but it turned out to be quite a struggle," said Morrison. 

In Morrison's last game coaching Lakehead in 2013, his team lost to the powerhouse Carlton Ravens in the national finals. 

But it was time for Morrison to make a decision. His contract was up, and he was trying to renegotiate with Lakehead for more money, following the success he had with the team. But the university couldn't afford it. 

Instead, Morrison asked for a year sabbatical. 

Doing the dirty (laundry) work

Morrison had hoped to volunteer with an NBA team, but wasn't able to find a job there. That's when Morrison started looking at the NBA's developmental league, and became an intern with Maine Red Claws, an affiliate of the Boston Celtics.

Scott Morrison

There Morrison would take on some unusual duties. Morrison would have to do some laundry, set up the court, and even drive the bus during his time as an intern. Morrison recalls working with one of his fellow interns, Jim Moran, who is an currently an assistant coach with the Portland Trailblazers.

"There were several days when we were the only ones in the office. These guys would just leave their stuff on the floor, towels, face clothes, and anything you can imagine, and we're picking it up. And we're kinda looking at each other like, how did we get to this point?"

But it wasn't all clean up duty. Morrison has some basketball tasks as well, and his success at those eventually caught the eye of Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. The following summer, as Morrison was preparing to return to Lakehead, he got a call from Stevens asking if he would be the head coach of the Red Claws. It didn't take much convincing. 

"I took it right on the spot. It took me about three seconds to decide."

Morrison had done some work with the Celtics while he was head coach of the Red Claws, but in the summer of 2017, he was brought on as an assistant coach. 

Hurt Hayward

During the off-season, Morrison worked with the rookie Semi Ojeleye and big free agent acquisition Gordon Hayward.

I thought his shoe fell off and it was just kind of hanging off the side of his foot, obviously it turns out it was much more serious than that.
— Scott Morrison

"I was joking with him that the first workout we did, he signed a max contract, I must be a pretty good coach."

Morrsion worked with Hayward almost every day of the summer, and Hayward was excited to get on the floor and play, until the unthinkable happened. 

Just a few minutes into the first game of the season, Hayward went to catch a lob, and landed awkwardly.

"I thought his shoe fell off and it was just kind of hanging off the side of his foot, obviously it turns out it was much more serious than that," said Morrison. 

But it wasn't long before Morrison was all over social media, rebounding the ball for the seated Hayward as he worked on his shot.

"We're still doing our workouts. Whatever he can do, we try to keep him busy, and making sure he's improving his skills well off his feet."

And there hasn't been any let up from the rest of the Celtics either. At the time of the interview the Celtics were 11-2, and they went on to win a thrilling victory over the Toronto Raptors. 

Morrison is happy with where he is at right now, but he certainly would eventually like to move up.

"Maybe eight, 10 years down the road, if the team does well and Coach Stevens gets sick of me, maybe he will recommend me to a team with an opening," said Morrison. 

"Now it's just exciting, all the things that you asked me about, being a part of the Celtics, being in the NBA, it's all pretty new. I'm proud to be here, but also hungry to be a better NBA coach."

For more about Morrison's journey, listen to Episode 24 of Canada's Court.