TORONTO â€” Before Senior Day tipped off last month at the University of Oregon, Ducks fans stood for O Canada.
The Canadian anthem played that day in support of two of the team’s seniors â€” Dylan Ennis and Chris Boucher. Add in Pac 12 player of the year Dillon Brooks and the trio of Canadians have been the cornerstone this season of one of best teams in NCAA basketball.
“There’s a lot of respect for it and you see it around the fans of the teams that have Canadians, they often embrace the Canadian aspect,” said Ennis’s dad Tony McIntyre, who was in the crowd at Matthew Knight Arena for Senior Day.
It’s become a common storyline: Canadians playing key roles down south. And once again, a cast of talented Canadians will follow in the footsteps of the likes of Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, Andrew Wiggins and Jamal Murray into March Madness.
“I think it’s great, great for basketball in Canada that’s for sure,” McIntyre said.
McIntyre and wife Suzette Ennis will be in Sacramento on Friday, when the Ducks open against 14th-seeded Iona.
Oregon went 29-5 in the regular season to finish co-champions of the Pac 12. A No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament last season, they’re seeded third in the Midwest Region this year after losing to Arizona in Saturday’s Pac 12 final. That game came hours after learning Boucher was done for the season, having torn his ACL the previous night.
Regardless of who’s missing, and where they’re seeded, Brooks said the Ducks’ goal remains unchanged.
“National championship,” he said. “It’s the same tournament, we’re all here for the same thing, to win, and wherever we’re at we’re competitors, we’re confident in ourselves, and wherever we’re at we’re ready to play.”
Brooks, a 21-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., led the Ducks to an appearance in the Elite Eight last season. The Canadian made headlines after Oregon’s Sweet Sixteen victory over Duke when coach Mike Krzyzewski chastised Brooks for his long three-pointer with the clock ticking down and the game in hand.
“He just told me that I’m too good of a player to be showing out at the end,” Brooks said after. “And he’s right. I’ve got to respect Duke.”
Krzyzewski originally disputed Brooks’ account, saying “I didn’t say that. You can say whatever you want. Dillon Brooks is a hell of a player. I said, ‘You’re a terrific player.'”
Krzyzewski would later apologize to Ducks coach Dana Altman.
Brooks averaged 16.0 a game this season, bouncing back from what could have been a devastating broken foot suffered in the off-season. He also had a couple of buzzer-beating winners against UCLA and Cal. The six-foot-six guard is a ferocious player. Photos often catch Brooks, mouth open, mid-guttural scream.
“He’s just a very high energy, highly active, very skilled scorer,” said McIntyre, who worked with Brooks in CIA Bounce, the AAU program he co-founded. “He goes out and changes the pace of the game, does what his team needs, and that’s to score and get buckets.”
McIntyre’s son, meanwhile, is thriving after his own disastrous foot injury sidelined him virtually all of last season. The 25-year-old Ennis, whose younger brother Tyler plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, had broken his fifth metatarsal and underwent surgery in the summer of 2015. Barely into his second game back, the Brampton, Ont., native went up for a layup and felt a pop. X-rays showed the bone had snapped, and the pin had bent.
“It was really tough.” McIntyre said. “Going through the season obviously you want to play, but then you’re sitting there and you’re not sure if you’re going to get another year so you’re just kind of ending your college career on the sideline watching the team you’re supposed to be out there helping lead do really good things.”
He had a second surgery and bone graft, and found out last July that the NCAA had granted him another season of eligibility.
“He actually found out during my daughter (Brittany’s) graduation barbecue, he got a call in the middle of it,” McIntyre said. “So it ended up being a graduated barbecue-slash-basketball celebration.”
Boucher’s injury is a huge blow to the Ducks. The 24-year-old from Montreal, one of the most prolific shot blockers in Pac 12 history and an excellent three-point shooter, tore his ACL in the first half of Friday’s win over Cal, but played the rest of the game, finishing with 10 points and two blocks. He averaged 11.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks a game this season.
Brooks posted a photo of the two Canadians on Instagram after the bad news, writing: “This man right here is a tough son of gun love you like a brother.”
Boucher’s remarkable story â€” he’d dropped out of high school and was working as a cook, sometimes sleeping on overnight busses in Montreal, when he was invited to play for a prep school team in Alma, Que., â€” earned him the cover of Sports Illustrated’s college basketball preview issue.
Despite Boucher’s absence, the Ducks look to improve on last year’s performance, but face a stiff path against potential opponents in Creighton, Louisville and No. 1 seeded Kansas. Oregon is gunning for its first Final Four appearance since 1939.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press