During the 2013-14 college basketball season, the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team took the nation by storm in its inaugural ACC season. A formidable frontcourt just months removed from the 2013 Final Four teamed up with a youthful backcourt as a freshman point guard from just north of the border out of Brampton, Ontario, took the reigns in place of Michael Carter-Williams.
Tyler Ennis started at point guard for Syracuse from the preseason Canada tour in August all the way though the program’s best start in school history at 25-0 and into the post-season.
During that same 2013-14 basketball season, another freshman talent from just outside of Toronto was making waves in the college game. Andrew Wiggins came onto the national scene at Kansas and parlayed his one year as a Jayhawk into the eventual No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Ennis would follow just 17 picks behind Wiggins in that summer’s NBA Draft, both heavily influencing a young 15-year-old Oshae Brissett in the process.
When asked if he takes pride in being from Canada, Brissett lights up with a wide smile. He nods, admits that he is indeed a proud Canadian and elaborates on why that is. Brissett mentions a class of Canadians in college basketball who have crossed the border to compete and to be a part of some the best basketball in the world.
“I’m really proud of what everyone is doing. I can name a whole bunch of guys, you know, RJ (Barrett), Iggy (Brazdeikis), Luguentz (Dort), Andrew (Nembhard). I could keep going. There’s a whole bunch of guys that are doing great in college basketball. I’m just excited where basketball is headed.”
For decades, Canada had been a hotbed for talent but its shining stars long went undiscovered in the U.S. For every Steve Nash, there were countless others who went unnoticed.
Fast forward to more recent history and Canada has become the largest representative of international talent in the NBA. That’s started with the Canadian players making their way into the college game in the states. Now, Brissett is just one of 24 Canadians competing in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, a number that’s been growing the last few years.
Brissett is close with both Nickeil Alexander-Walker of Virginia Tech and R.J. Barrett on Duke, he says he speaks with the former almost every day. He grew up playing on team Canada with Iggy Brazdeikis of Michigan and Lindell Wiggington of Iowa State. But a lot of these guys have been following in the footsteps of the trail-blazer in Wiggins.
“I feel like one of the guys that really started it was Andrew Wiggins. He was one of the first guys that we know since YouTube and all that stuff has been out, to go to Huntington Prep and have that crazy mixtape,” Brissett said. “He’s a guy that really got the hype in Canada. Once we see stuff like that it really gives us confidence that we can do that same thing he’s doing.”
Brissett came up through the ranks in Mississauga and eventually earned a spot on the national squad as part of Team Canada. He earned his stripes, crossed the border into the states and turned into a star at Findlay Prep in Las Vegas where he started to field offers from major division one programs.
Syracuse eventually offered — Brissett finished up his last year of high school basketball at Athlete Institute just outside of Brampton alongside current teammate and dual-citizen Howard Washington. They played for Tony McIntyre, father of Tyler Ennis. Both would prove instrumental in Brissett committing to Jim Boehiem.
“I’ve known Tyler for a while because of coach Tony,” Brissett divulged. “My best friend Jahvon was actually dating Tyler’s younger sister. So when we’d go over there, that’s how me and Tyler became friends. We’d always work out.”
“Tyler really convinced me to come here (to Syracuse) honestly. Through my whole recruiting process, near the end he was the one I was talking to and getting advice from.”
The reason Brissett wears No. 11 at Syracuse now is because of Ennis. It’s the same No. 11 that Leo Rautins wore during his Syracuse years.
When it came time for Brissett to announce his college decision he did so during halftime of a Raptors and New York Knicks game in Toronto. He announced next to Rautins on TSN, which was set up by McIntyre.
After the commitment, Brissett caught up with Carmelo Anthony, who welcomed Brissett to the Syracuse basketball family. Anthony of course needs no introduction for what he accomplished at Syracuse. Brissett says that Anthony keeps in touch and is like a big brother, and he’s stayed in contact with Leo, too.
“Me and Leo are real close,” Brissett says. “He always mentions me on twitter, congratulating me and stuff. It’s good to see that I still got some love back there.”
Brissett’s Canadian pride also shines through in his choice of music. Perhaps nobody has traversed the border as well as Drake, the Toronto born icon who spent his summers as a youth with his father in Memphis, Tennessee. Drake blended hip-hop and R&B into his own style and blurred the lines between Canada and the U.S. in the process. Some will say what they will, but Drake paved the way for Canadian music success in the states.
Brissett says he listens to Canadian artists such as Drake, The Weeknd and even his cousin Terrel, who raps. He listens to other artists signed to Drake’s OVO label such as Roy Woods. Like Tyler Ennis, Woods is also from Brampton.
“A lot of people don’t believe that I really listen to their music,” Oshae says. “But I listen to that before games, when I’m driving. I really like the slow music. Roy Woods is a really great artist.”
Tyler Ennis might have had the longest NBA tenure in his post-Syracuse career, but there have been plenty of others that have come through central New York during Jim Boeheim’s tenure.
Boehiem claims he and his coaching staff have recruited Canada for some time, even before Leo Rautins played in the early 1980’s. It’s an established pipeline that Boeheim wants to continue tapping into.
“Of course Leo was a tremendous player and Andy,” Boeheim says. “But Tyler Ennis was tremendous for us in his year. Oshae has been great. We’re definitely going to recruit Canada. It’s four hours to Toronto and four hours to Montreal.”
Boehiem also mentions Kris Joseph when speaking of Montreal and notes that Syracuse will, “have a kid coming in from Montreal next year.”
Should Brissett decide to return for his junior season in 2019-20, he’d play alongside Quincy Guerrier, the talented 6-foot-7 forward out of Thetford Academy. Both Brissett and Guerrier share the BioSteel All-Canadian game MVP honor, the Canadian equivalent to the McDonald’s All-American game. Brissett says he already expects Guerrier to do great things.
Basketball in Canada continues to rise and as more players infultrate the U.S. in search for better competition, it’s a win for programs such as Syracuse. The Orange have had at least one player from Canada on its roster in 10 out of the last 15 seasons (counting Andy Rautins’ dual-citizenship), Boeheim summarized it perfectly.
“We’ve had a lot of good players from Canada and I think basketball in Canada has been good and it’s getting better,” he finished.