Each year NCAA schools sign more and more international players to scholarships. Many come directly to the college from their country and many go to prep school in the United States first and then are signed at an NCAA school. There are hundreds of international players that will participate in the 2011-12 college season. Over 60 international players covered in NetScouts Basketball’s International Recruiting Service signed with and will be playing at NCAA schools this season. Many of these players are role players, but some are key players for their teams. In this article we’ll review some of the teams that have a heavy dependence on foreign talent as well as some of the key international stars of the 2011-12 college basketball season.
Gonzaga is ranked in the preseason top 25 and is the favorite to win the West Coast Conference title. The Bulldogs have seven international players on their roster. Elias Harris (6’7, Jr., Germany) and Robert Sacre (7’0, Sr., Canada) lead the way. Harris battled through some injuries last season but finished strongly (12.4, 6.0). He should come into his own this season. Sacre (12.5, 6.3) has improved throughout his college career and will form a formidable frontcourt with Harris. Kelly Olynyk (7’0, Soph., Canada) impressed us last year at the U18 Championships. He played well at times last season (5.8, 3.8) but has the size and offensive skill to give the Zags a solid contribution. Olynyk can score inside and out and has grown some over the past year. Freshman Kevin Pangos (6’1, Canada) will get time at the point this season and is Gonzaga’s point guard of the future. Pangos has started at all the major international championships for the Canadian national team and brings that experience to Spokane. Other international Zags who will contribute this season include 6’5 G Mathis Keita (France), 6’7 F Mathis Monnighoff (Germany) and junior college transfer 6’6 F Guy Landry Edi (Ivory Coast).
Gonzaga’s main competition for the WCC crown is St. Mary’s. The Gaels have seven international players including five from Australia. Four of the Australians come from the Australian Institute of Sport, Matthew Dellavedova, Mitchell Young, Clint Steindl and Jorden Page. The 6’4 Dellavedova (13.4, 5.3 assists) is one of the top returning guards in the country. He can play both guard spots and has unlimited range. Young, a 6’9 junior, came into his own last year (10.2, 5.1) and has the body to score inside and out. Steindl, a 6’7 senior wing shooter connected for over 42% of his three-point attempts last season while scoring 6.6 ppg. Page, a 6’1 redshirt soph. suffered an knee injury early last season that ended his year. He can score and distribute and will see a lot of time at the point. Kyle Rowley, a 7’0 transfer from Northwestern by way of Trinidad figures to start at center. Rowley started most of his games at Northwestern and will be an important addition for the Gaels as they try to combat Gonzaga’s size in their matchups.
The Southeastern Conference has not entered the international recruiting wars for the most part with the exception of Vanderbilt. The Commodores have four international players led by two members of last season’s NetScouts Basketball All-International Team, 6’7 Jeffery Taylor (Sweden) and 6’11 Festus Ezeli (Nigeria). Both returned to Nashville for their senior season after testing the NBA draft. Taylor was the second leading scorer on the team last year (14.7) and third leading rebounder (5.5). He is a solid all-around player who has been improving his perimeter skills. We thought Ezeli was the most improved player in major college basketball last season. Ezeli increased his averages from 3.8 ppg and 3.2 rpg in 2009-10 to 13.0 and 6.3 last season. In addition he set a Vanderbilt record with 87 blocks last season (2.7 pg). He was also one of the most productive players in college basketball last season as he generated those numbers in only 23.5 minutes per game. With the return of Taylor and Ezeli, Vanderbilt will challenge Kentucky and Florida in the SEC and figures to be a top-20 program nationally.
In the Atlantic 10, St. Louis, Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure and Duquesne will depend on their international connections. St. Louis returns 6’11 soph. Rob Loe (New Zealand) and 6’8 junior Cody Ellis (Australia). Loe, a top recruit who played in the 2010 Nike Hoop Summit will improve on last season’s numbers (6.7, 3.5). Ellis’s production tailed off last year (10.5 to 6.5) and will try to regain his shooting touch. They’ll be joined by freshman 6’6 Grandy Glaze (Canada by way of Notre Dame Prep, initially a UNLV signee) and 6’4 Emmanuel Tselentakis (Greece). Rhode Island brings back 6’7 swing junior Nikola Malesevic (10.3) who was the top three-point shooter in the league last season (45.8%). He’ll be joined by 6’8, 260-pound soph. Levan Shengelia. Shengelia blew out his knee at the beginning of last season and should help the Rams inside if he can stay healthy. St. Bonaventure returns first-team All-A10 6’9 senior Andrew Nicholson (Canada). Nicholson’s (20.8, 7.3) return has the Bonnies rated #5 in the preseason conference rankings. He’ll get help from 6’11 freshman rebounder and shot-blocker Youssou Ndoye (Senegal). Duquesne brings in two freshmen that will likely be in their rotation, 6’8 Mamadou Datt (Senegal/Stoneridge Prep) and 6’6 Kadeem Pantophlet (Holland/Canarias Basketball Academy). In addition they have 7’1 Martins Abele (Latvia) sitting out this season after transferring from Radford.
Two Canadians will help Oregon move up in the Pac-12 and contend for an NCAA berth. Olu Ashaolu, a 6’7 senior transfer from Louisiana Tech, is expected to be one of the conference’s top new performers. A tremendous rebounder (9.4), he has also improved his offensive game (14.2) and will likely be the Ducks’ MVP this season. Devoe Joseph (6’4, senior) will be eligible after the first semester after transferring from Minnesota where he averaged 11.3 ppg.
Among the freshmen recruits two players to keep an eye on are Pittsburgh’s 6’9 Khem Birch (Canada) and 7’1 Olexiy Len (Ukraine) of Maryland. Birch, a McDonald’s All-American is skinny but is a very quick jumper. He can rebound and will improve his offensive skills. Len, rated #5 in NetScouts Basketball’s 1993 class rankings, should play from day one. He averaged 16 ppg and 11.4 rpg in the 2010 U18 Eurobasket. He’s agile, fluid and has great size and length.