By: Gus Elvin / @gpelvin
For a few years now, ELA has had the Euroleague on lock. Now, the guys want to water their old roots with their new passion, and pay respects to the foreign-born ballers in the NCAA.
They’ve enlisted me to do the dirty work.
Who am I? Name’s Gus Elvin. I attended Syracuse with Slam and Freaknick but absorbed more Bracketology than Biology, more College Hoops than Colonial History.
In other words, I’m a college basketball junkie who follows every conference and watches almost every college basketball game that means anything.
I have covered college hoops for The Sports Headquarters for two years and now, my assignment with ELA is to make sure you know the names of every international player making waves in Division I college basketball.
While in the past we’ve seen international stars go to school in the states (Hakeem Olajuwon, Rick Smits, Dikembe Mutombo, Steve Nash) nowadays we are seeing more and more international players playing basketball in the U.S. at all levels. The game’s growth internationally was no more apparent than at last June’s NBA Draft as nine international players were drafted in the first round, 16 in all.
Brazil, Argentina, Senegal, Australia, Mexico and Iran are some of the spots we’ll hit along the way, but for my first installment, I thought we’d start with Canada, Germany and ELA’s Alma Mater.
Kris Joseph, Syracuse Orange (Canada)
6’7″ | 210 lbs. | Small Forward
If you haven’t heard of Kris Jo yet you need to wake up. Seriously, this guy has been an elite small forward on a consistently nationally ranked Syracuse squad for the past three seasons. Joseph, a Canadian, is now a senior and the leading scorer for the top ranked Orange at 13.7 points per game.
Kris will not be the first Canadian with the last name Joseph to go pro, however, as his cousin Corey was selected in the first round last June by the San Antonio Spurs. While Joseph’s stats (14 ppg, 5 rpg, 2 apg) aren’t particularly gaudy, one must factor in that he plays for a very deep and balanced Syracuse team; therefore, his numbers are lower than they’d likely be on almost any other team. Despite these good- but-not-great numbers Joseph remains Syracuse’s best all-around player and will be an All-American candidate come seasons end, especially if Syracuse continues at anything close to their now-perfect pace (20-0 at publication).
Joseph is not a crazy quick player but has a good first step which allows him to get into the lane and finish at the rim or draw contact and go to the free throw line. NBA scouts love Joseph’s length, and if he continues to show consistency from beyond the three-point line and as a rebounder he could even sneak into the lottery next June.
As Syracuse’s schedule stiffens in Big East play, look for Joseph’s scoring numbers to increase as the 6’7″ wing has a tendency to come up big in big games and will have more opportunities as the Orange shorten their rotation.
Joseph is just the latest Canadian to star at the collegiate level, joining recent Canadian NBA Draft picks like Andy Rautins (formerly of the Knicks, now with Lucentum Alicante), Tristan Thompson (Cleveland) and his cousin Corey (San Antonio) in the league.
If you haven’t seen Joseph play, I would compare him to Chris Douglass-Roberts, the former Memphis wing who has played for the Nets, Bucks and now plays for Virtus Bolgona in Italy. Like CDR, K-Jo is a long small forward who’s very good in one-on-one situations because of his ability to get to the basket and his tremendous ball handling. Joseph like Douglass Roberts is a crafty scorer who is deceptively very athletic and prefers to get to the rim but is also capable from shooting from the perimeter at a solid clip.
Now a senior, K-Jo has worked hard and made tweaks to both his game and body each and every offseason. If he has a strong finish—especially some dazzling performances come tournament time—he’ll be off the board before the first round’s over.
Elias Harris, Gonzaga Bulldogs (Germany)
6’7″ | 240 lbs. | Forward
While Germany is not known as a basketball-first nation, they certainly are on the map in world basketball thanks to a seven footer named Dirk. While Nowitzki has already established himself as the best German player of his generation, there are plenty of kids looking to become the next great. One of those is Elias Harris, a 6’7″ forward for the Gonzaga Bulldogs who, in two and a half seasons has gone from one of the top junior players in Germany to a future NBA Draft pick.
Harris first splashed onto the scene in the United States as a freshman as he averaged 15 points and 7 rebounds for the Zags, seemingly appearing from nowhere.
Well, it wasn’t quite nowehere: it was BIS Speyer of the German third division of pro ball. Now, a kid who showed up to Spokane as an obscure recruit has become one of the better players on the West Coast, his versatility and rebounding making it a nightmare for opposing defenses.
After a bit of a drop-off in production as a sophomore, Harris looks to have rekindled some of the magic from his freshman season as the junior is averaging 13 points and grabbing a career high 8 boards a game.
Despite a talented group of Germans playing college ball nowadays, Harris remains the top German national, a top player for a Top 25 team in Gonzaga. He can hurt you in a number of ways thanks to his above average athleticism and a rather useful outside shot that keeps getting better (career high 43 percent this season).
On the other hand, Harris has two major weaknesses: first he is very inconsistent at the foul line (59 percent), and secondly he has a tendency to disappear or blend in on the offensive end. Harris is too good to float in and out of games and Mark Few has worked with Harris to become more aggressive and demand the ball, especially late in games.
Harris, who was talked about as a lottery pick after his freshman season has taken a step back in scouts’ eyes because of his inconsistency and questions about his devotion to the game. But if Elias can become more assertive and selfish on the offensive end, his talent should bump him into ‘top prospect’ status once more.
While Elias Harris’ average of 13 points a game is less than stellar, he’s had moments this season where he has looked as good as any player in the country. Consider his 25 point, 8 rebound game in a win over Arizona or his 19 point, 8 rebound game against Illinois and their talented big man Meyers Leonard. An enigma the past few seasons, if the “real” Elias Harris shows up Gonzaga is a legitimate top 10-15 team this season.
In terms of an NBA comparisons, I would say somewhere in between Damion James of the Nets and Gerald Wallace of the Blazers due to his length and multiple talents. While Harris is a terrific defender and rebounder at 6’7″, he is not as quick as Wallace and cannot create shots like Wallace can at this point in his career, but there are similarities. In terms of size they match up, they both rebound well above their height and weight, both can guard a few different positions and both are very athletic and energetic on the floor.
Much like Damion James, Harris will have to be a defensive nuisance and a good offensive rebounder at the small forward position if he wants to find immediate NBA court time. The one advantage Harris might have over James and Wallace is his tendency to knock down the outside shot, but his high three-point percentages may be a bit deceiving as he has an awkward release and does not take a whole lot of outside jumpers at Gonzaga.
Jumper or not, Harris has plenty to offer an NBA team, and if he can ever become more assertive on offense and stronger as a ball handler he could just be Germany’s next great hope after all.