Prior to Kasongo and Alexander, the only Canadian to play scholarship basketball for the Big Orange was Bobby Croft, a 6-foot-9 center from Ontario who earned first-team All-SEC honors in 1970.
Given the above, adding two Canadians to the roster represents quite a departure. But it also represents the start of a trend. New Vol coach Rick Barnes recruited The Great White North with remarkable success during his 17-year stint at the University of Texas, so Canada will continue to be a prime target for Tennessee’s foreseeable future.
“We’re going to go anywhere and everywhere to recruit,” Barnes told InsideTennessee. “We have had some success in Canada and will continue to go up there because they’re doing a great job with their grass-roots program up there. Hopefully, we can continue to recruit it hard.”
Although Kasongo and Alexander are solid three-star prospects who should make impact at Tennessee, the three Canadians Barnes signed while at Texas were elite recruits – all five-stars and all McDonald’s All-Americans.
The first Canadian who committed to Barnes was Tristan Thompson, a 6-foot-9, 235-pound power forward who grew up in Toronto, then transferred to Findley Prep (Henderson, Nevada). Rated America’s No. 10 prospect by Scout, he left Findley to finish his high school career at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark. Signed by Texas in 2010, he averaged 13.1 points and 7.8 rebounds en route to team MVP honors as a Longhorn freshman. He was taken with the No. 4 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The second Canadian to cast his lot with Barnes was Cory Joseph, a 6-foot-3 point guard who grew up in Ajax, Ontario. Rated No. 14 in his class by Scout, he transferred to Findlay Prep for his sophomore, junior and senior seasons of high school ball. Another 2010 Texas signee, he averaged 10.5 points per game as a Longhorn freshman, then opted for the NBA. He was selected No. 29 in Round 1 of the 2011 draft by the San Antonio Spurs.
Canadian No. 3 was Myck Kabongo, a 6-foot-2 point guard from Toronto who played high school ball at St. Benedict’s Prep, where he was a teammate of Thompson’s in 2009 and 2010. He transferred to Findley Prep for his senior season, signed with Texas and graduated as Scout’s No. 10 prospect in the Class of 2011. After starting as a Longhorn freshman, Kabongo sat out the first 23 games of his sophomore season while the NCAA investigated alleged improper contact with an agent. Kabongo returned in time to average 14.6 points per game. He opted for the NBA Draft following his sophomore season but was not selected. After bouncing around in the NBA Developmental League, he is currently a free agent.
Kasongo and Alexander may lack the fanfare of Barnes’ Texas signees but both should contribute immediately on a Tennessee roster desperate for a post upgrade.
“Ray Kasongo was a player that a year ago visited a lot of schools,” Barnes told IT. “He visited Kansas, and signed with Oregon. It didn’t work out there from an academic standpoint, so he went to a junior college for a year. He’s got three years left. He’s a player we identified even when we were at Texas. With the frontline we were graduating there, we knew he was a player we’d love to have as a part of our program.”
Having played just two years of organized basketball, Alexander is very raw. His upside, however, appears off the charts.
“Coach (Rob) Lanier had been recruiting Kyle Alexander with the idea that he might come to Texas and redshirt,” Barnes said. “Once we got here (Knoxville), the redshirt thing went out the window.”
Alexander’s bloodline appears to be exceptional.
“He’s got a sister that plays in the WNBA,” Barnes noted. “His dad (Joseph) played Division 1 basketball (Niagara), and his mom’s a very strong lady.”
Alexander may need a year or two to develop but he could be special in time.
“Once you look at his hands and his quickness, you’re excited about him,” Barnes said. “He’s only been playing two years but some of the things he does we can’t coach. It’s hard to coach great hands, and he has that. He’s been a soccer player, which I think is a great thing.
“We’re excited about both of those guys.”
That’s understandable. Barnes inherited a Tennessee team that was dominated inside on a regular basis in 2014-15. The transfer of rising sophomores Tariq Owens and Willie Carmichael left the post game with a shortage of bodies, as well as high-major talent. Fortunately for Barnes, his assistants had done their homework on the recruiting trail.
“I think it’s a real compliment to our coaches that they knew where some players were that we kept our eyes on,” the head man said. “You always do that. Once we were hired here we knew we wanted to go after these guys. We got ‘em on campus during the Orange & White spring game. Once they got here they told us they loved it, and that’s where it all comes together.”