Canadians Bennedict Mathurin and Shaedon Sharpe took very different paths to the NBA, but their professional dreams came true within minutes of each other on Thursday.
Mathurin, a 20-year-old Montrealer who played at the University of Arizona, was selected sixth by the Indiana Pacers. Moments later, the Blazers took a chance on Sharpe, a 19-year-old from London, Ont., who hasn’t played in a college game, with the seventh pick.
“I feel like a winner,” Mathurin said. “I’m a very competitive guy. Off the pitch, I feel like I’m quite a funny guy. I like to do a lot of fun things.”
It’s only the second time in history that two Canadians have made the top-10 in the NBA draft. In 2014, Andrew Wiggins was taken first overall by Cleveland, and Sacramento took Nik Stauskas with the No. 8 pick.
Two other Canadians went back to back in the second round. Gonzaga guard Andrew Nembhard heads to the Indiana Pacers at No. 31, while Caleb Houstan has been selected at No. 32 by Orlando.
Canada has had 37 players selected since the draft was held in two rounds in 1989, the second most of any country behind the United States.
Mathurin joins a Pacers team that finished with a modest 25-47 record last season.
The six-foot-six fullback/forward became the first Canadian to attend the NBA academy in Mexico City in 2018. The draft broadcast showed live footage of current academy players cheering him on .
Mathurin then played two seasons at the University of Arizona, earning Pac-12 Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors, and averaging 17.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game this year.
He scored 30 points in a big game in the second round of March Madness, helping Arizona beat Texas Christian University in overtime.
Broadcasters compared Mathurin’s game to the Toronto Raptors’ OG Anunoby.
“We have a pretty good squad and I’m looking forward to making an impact straight away,” Mathurin said. “The staff were really good to me when I went there for my team training. I feel like they believe in me. To have people’s confidence in my game is great. “
Mathurin, whose parents are from Haiti – he speaks English, French, Spanish and Creole – hugged his mother and sister before taking the stage at the Barclay Center. He drew rave reviews for his burgundy and black floral suit.
Sharpe, a 6-6 wing, was a five-star recruit when he signed up at Kentucky in January. But he never played for the Wildcats, and when that was expected to change in 2022-23, he raised his eyebrows by declaring himself for the draft instead. He hasn’t played significant five-on-five action since a high school game in October.
“Going from high school to college and not playing your college season and then straight to the NBA is quite a journey. But every step of the way, I just fought and had fun,” Sharpe said.
Sharpe is looking forward to playing with star goaltender Damian Lillard.
“He’s a great guard himself and he’s been in this league for a while now, so I’m looking forward to really learning from him,” Sharpe said.
Nembhard, who played for Canada’s national team at the 2019 World Cup in China, spent four years in the NCAA, moving from Florida to Gonzaga for his final two years. Gonzaga went undefeated in the 2020-21 regular season before losing to Baylor in the NCAA Finals. The Bulldogs were eliminated in the third round this year.
The 22-year-old from Aurora, Ont., did well in the draft last month, dominating a 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.