A video of high-flying guard Shaedon Sharpe created a big buzz last month. The 19-year-old from London, Ont., takes two steps then leaps, touching above the top of a vertical leap testing gauge.
If the gauge was indeed the regulation 48 inches, the Canadian measured 49 — what would have been an NBA combine record. Portland guard Keon Johnson set the record last year of 48.0. The highest max vertical this season was just 41.5 by Tennessee point guard Kennedy Chandler.
Sharpe has become one of the most talked about players in Thursday's draft, largely because there's so little footage of the six-foot-five guard.
"I feel there is curiosity and mystery with me," he said in a recent pre-draft virtual media availability. "But I'm just in the gym getting ready."
Sharpe, Bennedict Mathurin, Andrew Nembhard and Caleb Houstan look to join the recent parade of talented Canadians in the NBA at Thursday's draft in Brooklyn, N.Y. Sharpe and Mathurin are both projected lottery (top-14) picks.
Sharpe was a consensus five-star recruit and one of most highly touted players in his class at Dream City Christian School in Glendale, Ariz. He enrolled at Kentucky in January, with expectations that he'd play this coming season. Wildcats coach John Calipari raved about his athleticism. But Sharpe never played a game, then created a stir by entering the draft.
Mock drafts have Sharpe going as early as No. 3 and no lower than ninth.
There've been close to three dozen Canadians selected since the draft went to two rounds in 1989. A record six Canadians were drafted in 2019, led by RJ Barrett, who went third overall to the New York Knicks.
Many Canadian draft picks have gone on to play starring roles, led most recently by No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins, who was superb in the Golden State Warriors' NBA title run this season.
What is Sharpe's NBA vision?
"I see myself being one of the greatest players to ever play the game of basketball, just getting after it and competing," he said. "One of my goals is to win Rookie of the Year and also all-star and later on Hall of Fame."
Sharpe, who played both basketball and football before breaking his leg playing running back just before high school, grew up watching Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, studying their footwork. He's currently watching a lot of video of Bradley Beal, Jason Tatum and Zach Lavine, saying he thinks they most closely match his game.
Sharpe could be considered a risk for NBA teams, with his lack of game film, and the fact he hasn't seen any significant five-on-five action since a high school game in October that was nationally televised in the U.S. Big games are a chance for players to prove how they react in the moment, under pressure.
"I don't think it's really going to be too hard for me, just because I've been competing for a long time now," Sharpe said.
Mathurin, a 20-year-old from Montreal, blossomed in his second season at the University of Arizona, earning Pac-12 Tournament's most outstanding player honours, averaging 17.4 points and 5.6 rebounds a game.
"I took advantage of March Madness to showcase my talent," the six-foot-six Mathurin said last week. "And I felt like there was a great chance for me, for people to see what I'm able to do.'"
He scored 30 points in a big game in the second round of March Madness, helping Arizona beat TCU in overtime.
Mathurin said he's been dreaming of the NBA since he was a young kid.
"Not a lot of people believed in me,'' he said in video conference last month. "I remember me telling my teachers in high school that I wanted to be an NBA player and then they all asked me my plan B and C and D."
Most mock drafts have Mathurin going between five and 10.
Nembhard and Houstan are projected to go high in the first round or early in the second. The duo recently both worked out for the Toronto Raptors, who have the No. 33 pick.
Nembhard, who's played for Canada's national team, including the 2019 World Cup in China, spent four years in the NCAA, his final two at Gonzaga, who 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.
"I learned how to play better with good players, move off the ball and be efficient in my limited touches," he said after his workout in Toronto. "I also improved my jump shot. You saw my numbers increase and fixed some of my mechanics. I saw growth there, and I saw growth in my body.''
His experience showed at the draft combine last month. The 22-year-old from Aurora, Ont., thoroughly dominated 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.
Both Nembhard and Houstan said they weren't paying close attention to mock drafts.
"You're going to find out on draft night," Houstan said.
"You want to focus on yourself and control what you can control, " Nembhard added. "The biggest thing is you only need one team to like you, not all 30.''
Two Canadians were drafted last year: Josh Primo, who went 12th overall to San Antonio and Dalano Banton, who became the first Canadian drafted by the Raptors when Toronto selected him with the 46th pick.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2022.