The summer of Andrew Nembhard continues.
After winning a national championship with Montverde Academy and then partaking in multiple high school All-Star showcase events the U-18 FIBA Americas event was supposed to be the final summer basketball played by Nembhard before he headed to Gainesville. That was, of course, until his dominant play at that U-18 tournament earned him an invite to the Canada’s senior men’s national team tryout.
Just a tryout, mind you.
With Canada sporting a handful of NBA talent and Nembhard originally a class of 2019 player that could have been on his way to his senior year of high school next season it wasn’t a slam dunk he would make the team alongside an NBA champion like Cory Joseph or one of the league’s most skilled big men in Kelly Olynyk. However, after playing excellent basketball in camp and in two exhibition games in China Nembhard was named to the 12-man roster to play in what were some extremely important games to Canada in terms of qualifying for the FIBA World Championship and ultimately the 2020 Summer Olympics. Here is how he played in both the exhibition games against China and the two round robin games against the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Firstly:
These were important games for Canada. Choking in a 2015 qualifying game against a Dominican Republic team that the Canucks had previously beaten by 30 kept a deserving Canadian team out of the 2016 Olympic games and the team is desperate to make it to the 2020 Olympics. Winning these games and qualifying for the FIBA World Cup is pivotal for Canada and they were looking to bring their best possible roster along, not just take young guys to get experience. Nembhard making this roster was not purely a development decision, they wanted, actually, NEEDED to win these games and the staff thought having Nembhard was in their best interest to do that.
Nembhard beat out some good players to make the 12-man team. G-League players Kaza Kijami-Keane and perhaps more notably former Boston College standout Olivier Hanlan were pro players that were left off in favor (or, “favour” because we’re talking Canada here) of Nembhard. They also left off former NBA big Andrew Nicholson to keep a spot for the future Gator. The NBA talent on the roster Nembhard got to play next to was Khem Birch (Orlando Magic), Cory Joseph (Indiana Pacers), Dillon Brooks (Memphis Grizzlies), Kelly Olynyk (Miami Heat), and Dwight Powell (Dallas Mavericks). You’ll see shortly that Nembhard also wasn’t just on the team to fill a spot but played a lot of valuable minutes and got more run than a lot of the seasoned pros.
Having Nembhard play on the senior men’s team was never in the original plans for coach Jay Triano and company. In talks with some Canada Basketball representatives I was told he wasn’t thought of as a player that would be considered for the senior men’s team but his play throughout the showcase season and with the U-18 team made them think he was worthy of a camp invite and once he was there they knew he would fit in excellently with their cast of current pros. The way Nembhard has been able to get better every time he plays means the Gators are going to get a player that won’t just begin the season at a high level but continue to get better and better throughout the year.
Game 1 (Versus China, Exhibition, Win)
16 Minutes Played
0-3 Field Goal Attempts (0-2 3FG)
Game 2 (Versus China, Exhibition, Win)
19 Minutes Played
6-8 Field Goal Attempts (6-7 3FG)
Game 3 (Versus Dominican Republic, Win)
15 Minutes Played
2-6 Field Goal Attempts (0-1 3FG)
Game 4 (Versus U.S. Virgin Islands, Win)
16 Minutes Played
1-4 Field Goal Attempts (0-2 3FG, 1-2 FT)
Here are some great quotes regarding Nembhard’s play throughout the exhibition games and the extremely important round robin games. First, from head coach Jay Triano:
“Andrew just seems unfazed about anything out there. He guards well, controls the offence, the ball moves when he’s out there, he’s a true point guard.”
He had another great quote when talking about Nembhard as well as his high school teammate RJ Barrett who was also playing for the red and white:
“I really don’t think unless you looked at their birth certificate that you would know that they’re teenagers playing the way that they do right now.”
Regarding why he named the young Nembhard to the team:
“I said, ‘You know, we need to bring this kid up. No. 1, because he’s good. No. 2 because we’re going to be down a point guard. He played excellent (in St. Catharines, the location of the U-18s). Then we had to play China, against men, and he was even better, arguably one of our better players in those two games. He’s got a great future ahead of him. You found out tonight but we found out a week ago the kid’s special.”
Nembhard’s praises were also sung by Indiana Pacer Cory Joseph, one of the veteran leaders of Team Canada.
“Andrew, I’d seen play a couple times. He’s really impressed me. His decision-making is good. He’s been playing really good. He’s been holding down that point guard spot really well.”
After getting to see Nembhard against high school competition at Montverde and All-Star talent at showcases like the Jordan Brand Classic it was another great look to watch him play experienced grown men on the national teams of China, the Dominican Republic, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This also gave a great opportunity to get to see him playing alongside current NBA talent which was potentially the most interesting part of these games from a scouting standpoint. Nembhard was extremely comfortable playing with pro talent knowing when to give up the ball in transition and knowing how to move away from the ball to keep the floor properly spaced. He looked great in the backcourt with Cory Joseph when they played two point guards and worked really well with the big men Kelly Olynyk, Khem Birch, and Dwight Powell. His play with big men has always intrigued me and his ability to get post players open looks down low means that if the Gator bigs can improve their touch around the basket after working with coach Pinkins they should find themselves with a lot of easy points.
Seeing him next to NBA ball handlers like Dillon Brooks (a wing, but a player who does most of his work with the ball in his hands) and Cory Joseph was really interesting to see how Nembhard’s speed and dribbling compared. I thought Nembhard looked equally comfortable in traffic and glided around the court in a really similar way to Brooks which was an encouraging sign.
He wasn’t able to get free for as many open threes as we saw in the U-18 tournament but it was fantastic to see him Nembhard shoot a blazing 6-7 from deep against the Chinese squad. His jump shot keeps getting better and better since high school and I think he will be more than capable of knocking down open shots with the Gators.
Perhaps the only area I saw Nembhard have some issues when playing against professionals was in the strength category. Though Nembhard was playing solid defense on the perimeter if opposing guards were able to get into his body he was usually pushed out of the way allowing easier layups at the rim. Andrew’s father Claude told me getting stronger was going to be a focus for him and I can see why, of course he is going to be a young freshman and very few of those are finished products physically.
What’s Up Next
Nembhard should finally be able to get on campus after his time with the Canadian team prevented him from going to Gainesville at the same time as the rest of the Gators. After playing tons of international games this summer he should arrive at camp firing on all cylinders, you’d have to think. Canada has the second portion of their round robin in the fall with two games in September and one in November and it’s likely Nembhard won’t be able to join them for that due to his obligation with the Gators.
All together, this has been a tremendous summer for Andrew Nembhard and the team should be incredibly excited to have him on the roster.