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NBA Draft Canada win big on draft night

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Thursday night’s NBA Draft turned into yet another banner night for basketball in Canada, with a record six Canadians drafted — including four in the first round.

It was also, officially, the night that Zion Williamson, the most anticipated prospect since LeBron James, officially joined the NBA ranks, marking a new era for the league and it’s ever-growing stable of fans.

But draft night wasn’t a hit for everybody involved. Without further ado, here’s a look at the winners and losers from the 2019 NBA Draft:

Winner: Canadian basketball

To recap: Last week the Toronto Raptors brought the Larry O’Brien trophy to Canada for the first time ever, while millions of Canadian hoops fans in Toronto and across the country showed a global audience that we are every bit a basketball nation.

Early into the WNBA season, Hamilton, ON’s Kia Nurse is picking up where she left off last year and through nine games ranks seventh in total points scored and second in free throw attempts, where she’s currently 37-42 from the charity stripe.

And then there was Thursday’s draft, where a record six Canadians were selected, including a record four in the first round.

As expected, RJ Barrett kicked things off, going third to the New York Knicks to a rare chorus of cheers from the local crowd notorious for panning their selections.

He was followed by Hamilton, ON’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker (17th overall), who joins an exciting young New Orleans Pelicans team; Vancouver’s Brandon Clarke (21st) who will, ironically, join the Grizzlies in Memphis — another promising young roster — and Burlington, ON big man Mfiondu Kabengele (27th) who will form a Canadian contingent on the Los Angeles Clippers alongside standout Canadian PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

In the second round, Oavkille, ON’s Ignas Brazdeikis (47th) parlayed a strong freshman season at Michigan to a spot alongside Barrett on the Knicks, while Ottawa’s Marial Shayok (54th) joins the Philadelphia 76ers.

Move over California and New York, Ontario is the NBA’s latest basketball hot bed.

Winner: New Orleans Pelicans

You could have slotted the Pels here in the ‘winner’ category the moment their name was called in the draft lottery, when they secured generational talent and new franchise centrepiece Zion Williamson.

In Williamson the team lands a jaw-dropping talent with a powerful and versatile game that should allow him to absolutely thrive in today’s NBA. He’s also a high-character kid whose infectious and charming attitude was on display throughout draft night.

But beyond Zion the team had a very productive night. First, they traded their fourth overall pick, turning it into three picks which the team used to load up on promising talent — centre Jaxson Hayes out of Texas, a bouncy alley-oop finisher and rim-protector who should cause fits for opponents alongside Williamson; the aforementioned Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who has a chance to be a valuable weapon off the bench for New Orleans’ backcourt, and in the second round picked up impressive Brazilian guard Marcos Louzada Silva.

Throw that promising batch of prospects to a team starring Jrue Holiday and featuring newcomers Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart — to say nothing of the bevy of future first rounders the team also acquired for Anthony Davis — and suddenly few franchises have as bright a future as New Orleans.

Winner: RJ Barrett

Barrett’s stock took a slight hit during a collegiate season in which he carried a heavy workload for Duke, but the top-ranked Canadian prospect found a good home with the New York Knicks where his NBA-ready game should get plenty of chances to shine.

The 19 year-old is extremely poised, projects to do even better at the pro level than at college and seems to have the right demeanor to shine in the Big Apple, where he is already a fan-favourite.

This is a huge opportunity for Barrett given there’s a strong chance the Knicks strike out on marquee free agent targets like Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard. If that’s the case, expect the team to undergo an organic rebuild, with Barrett as the centrepiece and potential face of the franchise, an exciting and challenging set of circumstances to start his career.

Loser: Bol Bol

There’s always at least one player who plummets far below his projected draft position, and this year that would be Mr. Bol. A projected top-5 pick heading into his lone collegiate season and a presumptive first-rounder heading into last night’s event, Bol fell all the way to No. 44 in the second round. It’s understandable why he fell so far given the 7-foot-3, one-of-a-kind prospect suffered a season-ending foot injury that screams “red flag” for teams, but you’d think a player of his size who has great ball-handling skills and a natural shooting touch that extends well beyond the arc, would be worth taking a flier on.

You can put the Nuggets in the ‘winner’ category for trading into the second round to nab Bol and roll the dice with the big man.

Winner: Bol Bol’s stylist

Loser: Boston Celtics

You could have put the Celts in this category before the draft after both Kyrie Irving and, more crucially, Al Horford, are reportedly leaving the team for free agency.

It placed a new importance on draft night for Boston who are suddenly now faced with building a roster around young stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The team entered the draft with a good head start in the form of three first-rounders, but repeatedly traded out of their spot — effectively drafting and dealing at least one incredibly promising prospects in defensive monster Matise Thybulle, who averaged 3.5 steals and 2.3 blocks at Washington last season.

Winner: Shooters

There’s no secret that shooting is at a premium in the NBA these days, and if that skill-set is your calling card, then chances are you had a good night on Thursday.

A number of shooting specialists were drafted higher than projected, beginning with UNC’s Cameron Johnson who was the biggest surprise of the first round, going 11th overall to the Phoenix Suns (more on them in a moment). Other shooters who, well, shot up draft boards included first-rounders Kentucky’s Tyler Herro, Belmont’s Dylan Windler, and Michigan’s Jordan Poole. There’s a lesson here: Parents, teach your children (to shoot) well.

Loser: Phoenix Suns

The Suns kicked off a puzzling night by trading starting-quality forward TJ Warren to the Indiana Pacers for the 32nd pick, creating cap room for who knows what (the Suns are rarely a free agent destination). They then traded down from the sixth pick, where Texas Tech standout and low-risk prospect Jarrett Culver wound up being selected, to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for the 11th pick (with which they reached for Johnson, universally ranked in the 20s) and forward Dario Saric. If there was any rhyme or reason to these choices, we won’t know until the off-season is complete and whatever vision the Suns’ brass has is fully realized.

But, for now, it looks like a team with a history of poor decision-making living up to their reputation.

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Sportsnet faces challenges after Don Cherry departure

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Sportsnet brass made the call to end Don Cherry’s nearly four-decade run on Hockey Night in Canada’s Coach’s Corner after his rant over the weekend. Their next big decision may be even tougher.

With his bombast, insight, experience and over-the-top delivery, Cherry created an institution with his appearances on the popular Saturday evening segment.

Love him or hate him, he’s hard to replace. Therein lies the challenge for Sportsnet president Bart Yabsley, Rogers Media president Jordan Banks and other company powerbrokers.

Oh to be a fly on the wall in the Rogers boardroom this week. Do they continue with the segment or rebrand for the future? If Cherry is replaced, who gets the nod? And should a successor move in right away or down the road?

Consistently a ratings hit, the first intermission this Saturday night will be appointment viewing.

Don Cherry sparked online backlash on Saturday night for his comments about immigrants not wanting to wear poppies ahead of Remembrance Day. 0:50

“It’s going to be very, very interesting to see what they do and I wouldn’t be surprised if they just let it slide for a while and put something else in there,” said David Shoalts, a former Globe and Mail sports reporter and author of Hockey Fight in Canada: The Big Media Face Off Over the NHL.

“It’s not as difficult as it would have been for them, because under Rogers they did cut [the segment] to five minutes. At the CBC, he had come to take up the whole first intermission, so that would have been a big problem.”

A spokesman said Sportsnet is “still considering options” for the first intermission segment and that company executives would not be doing interviews at this time. Segment co-host Ron MacLean did not immediately return a telephone message.

There were rumblings the network was considering moving on from Cherry during the off-season, but the 85-year-old wasn’t included in the recent wave of big-name on-air departures.

However, it’s likely Sportsnet already had ideas for the segment’s future post-Cherry.

A complete Coach’s Corner reboot is possible or there could be a shuffling of other segments. Extended highlight packages could help fill the gap. The segment could be dropped altogether, although that’s unlikely given its history and showcase status.

Cherry made comments on Hockey Night in Canada regarding new Toronto citizens not wearing poppies. 1:04

The network may choose to recognize the massive impact Cherry had as a commentator, but it would be tricky to balance that with his rather ignominious exit.

A career overview could buy some time since the seat might be a little too hot for an immediate replacement. Of course, it’s possible the page gets completely turned and Cherry’s name is not mentioned at all.

Just like when he was on the air, there will be no shortage of critics and plaudits.

Several candidates would be qualified to replace Cherry. Former hockey executive and current Sportsnet analyst Brian Burke is the early betting favourite.

Burke is a 3-2 pick to replace Cherry this Saturday and a 5-4 pick to fill the role next season, according to odds released Tuesday by SportsBettingDime.com. Sportsnet hockey commentators Kelly Hrudey, Colby Armstrong and Craig Simpson were listed among the other early favourites.

HNIC was a longtime CBC Saturday night staple, but the show and its games moved to Sportsnet when Rogers landed a 12-year, $5.2-billion US national broadcast rights deal with the NHL that began in 2014. Coach’s Corner and HNIC are still broadcast on CBC in a sub-licencing deal with Rogers Media, which owns Sportsnet.

Former CBC Sports host and current Not The Public Broadcaster podcaster Bruce Dowbiggin weighs in on Sportsnet’s decision to cut ties with the controversial longtime Hockey Night in Canada commentator. 8:51

Sportsnet apologized Sunday for Cherry’s comments about his belief that new immigrants don’t wear poppies, and in turn, don’t support veterans.

On Monday, Cherry was shown the door. In a statement, Yabsley said the comments were “divisive.”

Cherry prefaced his on-air remarks Saturday night with the phrase, ‘You people’ — drawing criticism from all quarters – but denied in interviews after his departure that he was singling out visible minorities. He has not publicly apologized for his comments.

“If I had to do it over again, I probably would have said ‘Everybody,”‘ Cherry said Tuesday in an interview on Sirius XM Canada’s “Canada Talks” channel. “But I didn’t and there’s no sense of whining about it and I paid the price.”

Given his long tenure, how — or if — his departure is addressed this weekend will be fascinating, as will MacLean’s thoughts. The veteran HNIC anchor apologized last Sunday.

“I had a good time,” Cherry said. “I’m 85 years old and I’m still having a good time. As I have always said, ‘I’m glad I’m going out on my shield. I’m not going out with a whimper.”‘

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Don Cherry defends Hockey Night in Canada comments but says he would have ‘used different words’

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Don Cherry says he won’t apologize for his divisive comments about new immigrants not wearing poppies, but the former co-host of “Coach’s Corner” says if he could do it again, he would have chosen different words.

“I think the closest I’ll come to apologizing is I wish I had used different words,” Cherry told Global News.

“I should have said everybody. If I had to do it over again, I would have said everybody.”

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Cherry, 85, was fired from the Hockey Night in Canada segment by Sportsnet Monday, following televised comments Saturday night in which he singled out “you people that come here” in Toronto and Mississauga, where he lives, for not wearing poppies, implying they don’t support Canada’s soldiers.

“You people that come here… whatever it is, you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you could pay a couple of bucks for a poppy,” he said on Saturday.

In an interview with Global News, Cherry refused to back down from his comments and said that everyone should wear a poppy to honour Canada’s fallen soldiers.

“I do believe to this day that everybody in Canada should have a poppy on, out of honour and respect of the fallen soldiers that have fallen in the Second World War, Korea and the whole deal,” Cherry said.

“Those people who gave their lives, at least we can buy a poppy.”

Pressed on whether his comments were racist, Cherry said his comments weren’t directed at minorities, and that what he said applies to anyone.

“It could have been Irish, it could have been Scottish, it could have been anybody,” he said, adding that the “silent majority” supported him.

“It was picked up the way it was picked up.”

Cherry said he was planning to apologize on this week’s upcoming Hockey Night in Canada, but was never given the chance.

“I was ready to apologize,” Cherry said. “I was gonna put out a tweet, or whatever they do, saying I was wrong and I think it could have smoothed over pretty good. But that’s the way they wanted it and that’s the way it goes.”

Global News has contacted Sportsnet about whether Cherry would have apologized, but they said they had nothing further to add.

Cherry, a former player and NHL coach, had worked as a broadcaster for more than 37 years on Hockey Night in Canada, drawing attention for a number of controversial statements including calling progressives “left-wing pinkos,” describing Quebecers as “whiners,” and making derogatory comments about European hockey players.

Sportsnet president Bart Yabsley said in a statement Monday that it was “the right time for him to immediately step down.”

“During the broadcast, he made divisive remarks that do not represent our values or what we stand for,” Yabsley said.

Coach’s Corner co-host Ron MacLean also apologized Sunday for Cherry’s remarks. During Cherry’s rant, MacLean could be seen nodding and giving a thumbs-up.

‘We were wrong:’ Ron MacLean apologizes for Don Cherry’s comments on Hockey Night in Canada

MacLean issued a televised apology that Cherry’s remarks were “hurtful, discriminatory” and that he wished he had responded differently on air.

“Don Cherry made remarks which were hurtful, discriminatory, which were flat out wrong,” MacLean said. “I owe you an apology, too. I sat there, did not catch it, did not respond.

“Last night was a really great lesson to Don and me. We were wrong, and I sincerely apologize. I wanted to thank you for calling me and Don on that last night.”

Cherry told Global News that he was “disappointed” in his co-host Ron MacLean, but that the two were still friends.

“He buried me. I was very disappointed the way he handled [it],” Cherry said. “I don’t want to condemn him but I was very disappointed.”

Cherry’s remarks were roundly criticized by politicians across Canada including Toronto Mayor John Tory and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. The National Hockey League also weighed in, saying the comments “made last night were offensive and contrary to the values we believe in.”

Steven Purewal, a historian on the contribution of Indian soldiers during the First World War, told Global News on Monday it was wrong for Cherry to suggest immigrants don’t support Canadian veterans, noting the broadcaster has no way of knowing who’s an immigrant and who was born in Canada.

“It endorses a stereotype that the immigrant is somehow unpatriotic, is thankless about the sacrifices it took to build the country,” he said.

“What we need to be telling Canadians is that many, many diverse communities fought in the Great War and the Second World War. Without their contributions, we wouldn’t have the freedoms we have today.”

Meanwhile, some have been calling for the hockey host’s return. A Change.org petition called ‘Bring Back Don Cherry!’ has amassed over 108,000 signatures.

As for the long-time hockey pundit, Cherry said he is still processing being fired.

“I don’t think it’s hit yet,” he said. “It will be a little different Saturday when I sit down and watch where I was for 38 years.”

“I have no idea and I don’t think Ron Maclean has any idea what they’re going to run after the first period… It’ll be watched that’s for sure because everybody will want to see what goes on at the end of the first period.”

— With a file from Sean Boyton

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Brian Burke considered favourite to replace Don Cherry

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The Canadian Press


Published Tuesday, November 12, 2019 10:56AM EST


Last Updated Tuesday, November 12, 2019 11:09AM EST

TORONTO – Former NHL executive Brian Burke is listed as the heavy favourite to be Don Cherry‘s successor on “Hockey Night in Canada” on one sports betting site.

SportsBettingDime.com has released odds on candidates to replace Cherry after the commentator was sacked by Sportsnet yesterday for a rant about immigrants not wearing poppies on his “Coach’s Corner” segment on Saturday.

Burke, who currently works as an analyst at Sportsnet, is listed as the 3-2 favourite (must bet $2 to win $3) to appear on Cherry‘s longtime “Coach’s Corner” segment on Saturday.

Burke is the 5-4 pick to be the full-time replacement next season.

Sportsnet has not said whether it plans to keep the “Coach’s Corner” segment, which has been a first-intermission staple on HNIC.

Sportsnet hockey commentators Kelly Hrudey, Colby Armstrong and Craig Simpson are among the other betting favourites for Cherry’s job.

The site also is taking odds on what Cherry does next, with working for another media organization the favourite.

If he goes into politics, the odds consider Cherry’s most likely destination to be under Ontario Premier Doug Ford and the Conservative party.

Cherry is listed as a 2,000-1 pick to join the NDP.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 12, 2019.

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