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Khem Birch: The Future In Canada Is Basketball

Canada’s own Khem Birch was one of the best shot blockers in all of college basketball last season as the 6’9 big man averaged a double-double with 3.8 blocks per game for UNLV as a junior and he is on the Raptors radar as a future potential rim protector in Toronto. However, in Birch’s home province, hockey mad Quebec, basketball still plays second fiddle to the National sport, but Birch sees things changing with the next generation of kids coming after him.

“There are a lot of young guys coming up (who are) my brother’s age of 14 years old and every time I do something, they like everything, so I have made a really big impact on Montreal basketball,” Birch said. “I’m proud and hopefully I’ll keep it up. Right now it’s hockey, but watch, in the future, it’s going to be basketball. I can see it’s coming up.”

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After Tristan Thompson was selected fourth overall in 2011, Anthony Bennett went first in 2013 and with more three Canadians expected to be drafted in the first round in June plus up to four more in the second round, Birch feels this is a special moment in Canadian basketball.

“It’s definitely a moment,” Birch said. “The most Canadians ever in the draft, so it’s definitely a moment.”

A two-time Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year and second in all of college basketball with 3.8 blocks per game as a junior, the Raptors brought Birch in for a pre-draft workout because of his defense. One of the stated priorities at the end of the season was to add more rim protection and Birch as the potential to provide all of that.

“Our second line guys, we don’t have a big time rim protector out there,” said Director of Scouting Dan Tolzman. “I wouldn’t say it’s a priority, but it’s a roster need for sure.”

Birch is the type of nimble athletic big man that has become popular in the NBA and resembles a slightly bigger and better shot blocking version of a player like Kenneth Faried.

“Khem, he is so athletic and he’s got the length and the shot blocking and the rebounding,” Tolzman said. “He is an intriguing player because he is the type of player that the NBA is going to more – athletic, nimble types of bigs and he is right in that group.”

“I am going to bring the defensive energy,” Birch said. “That’s the type of player I am. That’s why I left, I proved myself in college. I was a defensive player.”

Birch would be a solid second round draft pick for the Raptors although they might have to use their earlier pick at 37 if they decide that he’s the guy they want. There is a good chance Birch will not still be on the board when Toronto picks again at 59. With the Raptors heading back to Montreal for yet another exhibition game against the Knicks in October, it would be pretty special if Birch was on the roster.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

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