Olivier Rioux Competes For Canada U18 Team

When Florida got the commitment of 7’7” Olivier Rioux it was clear they were getting a player unlike anything college basketball has seen–in at least some time. While there have been players listed at similar heights in the past, Rioux’s height is the only of this magnitude that has been verified, as Guinness World Records confirmed his height in an official capacity in order to list him as the world’s tallest teenager.


Given Rioux’s extreme height, it’s fair to question what it’s going to look like on the basketball court. It was one thing to see him at IMG Academy, but it’s another thing when the competition steps up considerably to the SEC.


We were able to see Rioux in high level competition this past week as he was a part of the Canadian U18 National team which headed to Argentina to compete in the U18 Americacup. This was an important competition for all teams involved, as a quality finish is required for these countries to qualify for next year’s U19 World Championship–a premier event that he turned into one of the most important on the FIBA calendar. 


Canada’s team has a number of players committed to division-1 programs, giving Rioux a chance to play with some quality talent, going against some teams like USA and the Dominican Republic that also have D1 bound athletes.


Ultimately Canada won bronze at this event, a somewhat disappointing outcome for a program that was hoping to be competitive with the United States for Gold. Canada ended up taking an upset loss to the Dominican Republic in the group stage that put them on USA’s side of the playoff bracket, and the Americans soundly thumped the Canadians in the semifinals. 


Overall the Canadians played six games, with Rioux starting most contests. He finished the event averaging 9.0 minutes, 4.5 points and 4.5 rebounds.

While he got the start, he often wasn’t in the game for long and there were a couple of factors leading to this. For starters, his conditioning is not at the point where he can play more than a couple of minutes at a time, particularly if there are fast break opportunities in either direction. When the pace increased he was only able to get up and down a few times before needing a sub, and this will be something that will need to be addressed if he’s ever going to be in an SEC rotation. Even Zach Edey struggled to play more than short bursts for the first two seasons at Purdue and he worked to the point where he could play a full starter’s minute load so it is possible–but it will likely take time. 


As mentioned previously this was an event that had some serious stakes for the national programs involved, so this was not a chance for much on-court development. That meant that Canada’s coaching staff was quick to pull players if they weren’t playing well, and a couple of defensive issues also led Rioux to get the hook if he had to guard a player that would stretch him beyond the three-point line. Right now Rioux is bound to the paint defensively and he can have an impact there, but he’s also going to allow a lot of open shots on the perimeter by simply not getting out to a close out. 


Canada’s biggest games in this tournament were their quarterfinals game and their bronze medal game. The quarterfinals was important because they desperately needed to advance in the single-elimination format, and the bronze medal game was huge because they needed that win in order to qualify for the U19 World Championship–the ultimate goal of this event. In these two games, Rioux played a combined 6 minutes. While Canada’s coaching staff was willing to give him opportunities in each game, it was clear when things got tough they were more comfortable with a conventional lineup. USA ended up blowing out Canada in the semifinals game and because of that Rioux was able to play 12 minutes, finishing with 6 rebounds.


On the positive side of things, you can simply never get used to seeing Rioux’s size. He makes absolutely everyone look miniscule around him, and he had a few buckets where he caught a lob near the rim that were simply unguardable. Oftentimes when you hear the term “unguardable” in basketball it’s an exaggeration, but if Rioux gets a lob thrown to him near the rim on the weak side, him dunking the ball is truly “unguardable.” He also went 9-13 from three throw line (69%) which isn’t going to set any records, but it’s an excellent number for a player who is going to live at the foul line at any level of basketball he plays. 


Overall, this tournament showed that Rioux is still a long way away from being someone who can play at the SEC level, but it showed that there is potential for him as someone who could have an impact even in short spurts. In a world of college basketball players being at programs for less time than ever, Rioux could be a player that sticks around as a long term project and is hopefully someone who will one day be a dominant player for the Gators.

Eric Fawcett
Eric is a basketball coach and writer from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His work has been found at NBA international properties, ESPN, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Lindy's and others. He loves zone defenses, the extra pass, and a 30 second shot clock. Growing up in Canada, an American channel showing SEC basketball games was his first exposure to Gator hoops, and he has been hooked ever since. You can follow him on Twitter at @ericfawcett_.