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CANADA'S GOT TALENT
Kelli Anderson
March 18, 2013
IT'S A REALITY SHOW THAT'S SWEEPING THE U.S.! PLAYERS FROM NORTH OF THE BORDER HAVE MUSCLED AND HUSTLED THEIR WAY INTO THE LINEUPS OF TOP TEAMS AND ARE POISED TO MAKE A BIG IMPACT IN THE BIG DANCE
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March 18, 2013

Canada's Got Talent

IT'S A REALITY SHOW THAT'S SWEEPING THE U.S.! PLAYERS FROM NORTH OF THE BORDER HAVE MUSCLED AND HUSTLED THEIR WAY INTO THE LINEUPS OF TOP TEAMS AND ARE POISED TO MAKE A BIG IMPACT IN THE BIG DANCE

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Unwilling to risk a similar crisis the following year, Nik headed south to prep school. After leading St. Mark's School (Southborough, Mass.) to a New England private-school title as a senior, he made a seamless transition to Michigan, breaking into the starting lineup in the Wolverines' seventh game. He's one of the few shooters Beilein has had who can handle and drive. "Our staff loves Nik because he just wants to be a good player," says Beilein. "And he wants his team to win and takes it very seriously. Yet he also says to us, 'It's only a game.' He's very good at putting it in perspective."

Like Stauskas, Cadougan took the prep school route to D-I, though his motivation for leaving home was grimmer. He became obsessed with the game as a toddler in Toronto's crime-ridden Jane and Finch neighborhood, where he lived with three siblings and his mom, Suzette, a native of Trinidad who worked at an auto parts factory. Junior played with his older brother, Kerlon, on indoor hoops fashioned out of coat hangers and milk cartons before he graduated to the gritty neighborhood courts. In middle school Junior made his first national team and joined the AAU squad Grassroots Canada, squeezing into vans with other players to drive to tournaments as far away as North Carolina. In the early summer of 2005, after a stellar ninth-grade season for Toronto's Eastern Commerce High, Junior asked Suzette if he could follow his friend Olu Ashaolu to an Atlanta prep school. "He was just 15," says Suzette. "I thought he was too young."

Two months later, a near tragedy changed her mind. On the evening of Aug. 3, Junior, Kerlon and their four-year-old brother, Shaquan, were on the porch of the family's town house with several friends when a gunman inside a passing car fired shots at the group. Five people were hit by bullets, including Junior, who was nicked in the shoulder. Shaquan, however, was hit four times in his legs and midsection. When he saw his little brother bleeding in the arms of a friend, Junior, a kid noted for his toughness even in that neighborhood, started crying. "The whole thing was crazy," he says.

Two weeks later, while Shaquan was still recovering, Suzette gave Junior her blessing to go south. "It wasn't easy for me, but he'd be safer there," she says. "God kept Shaquan alive, so that gave me confidence to know He'd be with Junior." (Shaquan, now 12, is in good health and plays for Grassroots Canada.)

Junior spent a year in Atlanta and three at Christian Life Academy in Humble, Texas, before arriving at Marquette, where he has averaged 8.6 points and 4.2 assists through week's end. (Ashaolu is now a senior forward at Oregon.) "I love his toughness and heart," Marquette coach Buzz Williams says of Cadougan. "There's nothing about him statistically that pops out. But so many good things happen when the ball is in his hands. He's an easy guy to cheer for."

One guy rooting for Cadougan is Bennett, who also grew up in Jane and Finch. The two players don't know each other well, but the affable Bennett keeps tabs on Cadougan's progress, as he does on that of dozens of fellow Canadians. Before a recent practice Bennett examined Canada Basketball's list of the guys playing D-I and named about 40 he considers friends. "We're like a family," he says. "We have to stick together."

Bennett and Cadougan have other things in common besides their old neighborhood. Anthony was also raised by a single mom, Edith Bennett, a native of Jamaica who worked two nursing jobs to support him and his two older siblings. And Anthony found refuge from the troubled streets in basketball, at the Boys and Girls Club, where he launched balls from the perimeter arc for hours.

When he was in sixth grade, the family moved to the Toronto suburb of Brampton. "I tried to find a hoop or basketball team to play on, but there was nothing," says Bennett, "so I stopped playing." A few years later he found an outlet in a house league and eventually joined CIA Bounce. "He was really raw, but you could see a lot of physical gifts," says the team's coach, Mike George. "And he was coachable—anything you'd ask, he'd do it."

With help from George, Anthony landed a scholarship at Mountain State Academy in Beckley, W.Va., where he played his 10th-grade year with five other Canadian teenagers—"I was never homesick," he says—before heading west to Findlay Prep in Las Vegas. Kentucky and Florida wanted to sign him, but he felt an affinity for the coaches and the style of play at nearby UNLV. After Birch, a fellow McDonald's All-American, transferred from Pitt in the fall of 2011 and reported being happy at UNLV, "that sealed the deal," says Bennett.

Bennett has been a revelation with the Runnin' Rebels, both for his leadership—coach Dave Rice says Bennett is the first to high-five teammates subbing in or out and the most likely to lay a reassuring hand on a teammate who is getting blistered in the huddle—and for his offensive domination. He leads the team with 15.9 points on 52.7% shooting (37.0% from the arc) and 8.1 rebounds, despite the altitudinal challenges of the Mountain West Conference, which can be especially brutal on an asthma sufferer like Bennett. (He says visits to mile-high Colorado State and Air Force, both losses, were "terrible.") Bennett's offensive production complements the defensive prowess of Birch, who averages 7.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks a game.

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