After highly-regarded ESPN personality Jason Whitlock made the shocking generalization that Canadian athletes, specifically basketball players, may not be as motivated as those from other countries, including Europe, responses from across Canada came swiftly.
Members of the basketball community, including Basketball Canada’s Senior Men’s Team general manager, and former two-time NBA MVP, Steve Nash, scoffed at the suggestion, immediately defending the athletes.
It seems strange that Whitlock would make such a generalization, when his specific target was Andrew Wiggins, the top pick in this year’s NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Whitlock was attempting to support the trading of Wiggins as part of a package of Minnesota’s Kevin Love, providing LeBron James with a formidable post player with whom he can challenge for Eastern Conference supremacy.
But remember, Wiggins is just 19-years-old; he declared for the draft after only one year at Kansas. We would all be hard-pressed to name a teenager that doesn’t have the occasional time where he, or she, is laying low and taking it easy. Wiggins is still a kid! But he has been regarded as the best young player, or at least one of them, for several years. If he was truly lacking motivation, how did he rise to be such a talent among the larger pool of American basketball players? Wouldn’t scouts have noticed a problem before one individual from the media?
More importantly, though, if Canadian basketball players are so unmotivated, how did they become such a hot commodity in the NBA draft in recent years? Virtually every team was after Wiggins, and many more were after players like Nick Stauskas (8th overall, Sacramento) and Tyler Ennis (Phoenix, 18th overall). Don’t forget that Anthony Bennett went first overall (Cleveland) and Kelly Olynyk (13th overall, Dallas; traded to Boston) in 2013. Cleveland, in fact, carries three high profile Canadian NBA players – Wiggins, Bennett and forward Tristan Thompson (4th overall, 2011). Their scouting staff must see Canadian players doing something right!
One interesting connection for Toronto fans is the fact that many of the players drafted recently, including Wiggins, are from the Toronto area and grew up watching Vince Carter do his thing for the Toronto Raptors. Now, when Raptors fans think of unmotivated, Vince Carter‘s name often comes up. Unfairly perhaps, but nevertheless, it comes up.
But for Raptors fans, Carter and the rest of that Raptors era arguably motivated and inspired an entire generation of young basketball players in not only Toronto, but across Canada.
I believe that Canadian players, like European players, have to work a bit harder to get the attention that is bestowed on American players. Some American television and media seem to give US College, and even some high school, basketball teams more press than they give to major sports like hockey. To be noticed, foreign players need to work harder to stand out and earn a spot in the American spotlight.
Based on recent draft years, it appears Canadian kids are highly motivated to work hard, and have earned the success that comes with it.