With the clock winding down in what concluded to be an underwhelming win-or-go-home Game 2 affair at Hershey Centre, the casual fan wouldn’t recognize some of the names on the court. Andre Washington, Kethan Savage, and Roger Moute A Bidias are names that rarely graced the court during the 905’s impressive yet anti-climactic 17-18 playoff run. However still out there, still pushing, still driving were two names locals took time to cheer for despite the lopsided effort. Aaron Best and Kaza Keane spent their last minutes on the court letting their efforts represent their passion.
Keane, generously listed at 6’2, is an Ajax native and one of three Canadian representatives on the Raptors 905. Too small, unathletic, streaky shot—those were the knocks on Keane when he went from Illinois State to Cleveland State then finally to Carleton.
Rarely do you look at a point guard today and admire the nuances of their success—vision, awareness on both ends, and ball security. Despite the lack of appreciation, the relative unknown Keane (in 19.8-MPG) had plenty of games where he let the G-League and NBA know he’s worth a look. A 19 point effort against the Long Island Nets, 16 games with 5 or more assists, as well as 4 double digit assist games including a career high 15 assists with only 3 turnovers against the Texas Legends to name a few. Small in stature but big in productivity is the best way to describe Keane’s game.
The other half of this USports coin, entering after five years with Toronto’s Ryerson Rams was Scarborough Native and Eastern Commerce alum Aaron Best. The 6’4 highflying shooting guard is likely the more recognized candidate of the two USports products in part due to his 26.1-MPG and high-flying antics that afforded him a spot in the 2018 NBA G-League dunk contest.
With AUTHORITY! @Raptors905 guard Aaron Best rises for the monster slam
— NBA G League (@nbagleague) April 11, 2018
Coming out of Ryerson though, Best’s athleticism was no longer something that set him apart. In fact, it seemed every team had two or three players with Best’s build and skill-set but from much more recognizable programs. It was however Best’s defence that set him apart.
After 35-points on 11-18 shooting in Game 1 of the NBAGL Finals for SG Derrick White, Jerry Stackhouse set his energetic defender to limit White’s offensive production in the second game. Chasing through screens, picking up at full-court, and closing out on open shots were just a few elite defensive duties Best took on, leading to a poor 4-18 shooting performance for White in game 2. Always a stout defender, in the G-League’s most televised game, Best may have shown the NBA world his niche.
So what does this have to do with USports? Well, of 35 Canadians that suited up in the G-League over the past two years all but two of them were from American colleges. Who were the two not from programs south of the border? Aaron Best and Kaza Keane.
Now it’s easy to refute the significance of their collegiate upbringing. Why in years past, there were massive hopes for some players educated in Canada—Philipp Scrubb, Thomas Scrubb, even Brad Rootes. Despite their success in the then-CIS, the platform was never there for their skills to be showcased. The NBA G-League has afforded players around the country and the world the opportunity to show their game, regardless of their background.
Credit Ryerson’s Roy Rana and Carleton’s Dave Smart for their efforts. Rana transitioned from leading a legendary HS program at Eastern Commerce to USports with Ryerson to coaching Canada’s FIBA Americup and 2019 World Cup Squad. Meanwhile, Smart is a coaching legend in Canada winning 92% of his matches against Canadian competition since 1999. If the players are the prize, these coaches are the foundation that have helped to prop up incredible talents like Best and Keane who’ve applied themselves to show the world how USports athletes can compete with NCAA athletes in an equal setting.
It’s a beautiful world we live in now that you can see two USports athletes competitive in their efforts to break into the NBA, along with players from high-profile colleges across America and abroad. Thank you to Kaza Keane and Aaron Best, you are inspirations to athletes across Canada who’ve been told since childhood that the NCAA is the only path to success. Thank you for showing your efforts and passion through fierce diversity. Thank you for showing the NBA and the NBA G-League that doing it the Canadian way is a pretty darn good way to do it.