Spotlight: Isaiah Canaan

by Max Rappaport
Sixers.com Writer
@MaxRappaport

Coming from oft-overlooked Murray State University, point guard Isaiah Canaan is looking to prove that a player from the Ohio Valley Conference can go toe to toe with those from the six high-major conferences.

Canaan, an even six-footer from Biloxi, Mississippi, has always been a star on the basketball court – in middle school, in high school, and in college. But he’s found that talent alone won’t make him stand out amongst the crowd at this level; coming from a small school, he has to earn respect each and every time he steps on the floor. 

“[Mid-major players] all play with a chip on our shoulders and we all believe that we’re supposed to belong in the spotlight like some of the high major guys,” Canaan told Sixers.com at last month’s NBA Draft Combine. “We work just as hard, if not harder, to stand out there.”

Prior to enrolling at Murray State in 2009, Canaan was a standout at Biloxi High School, leading them to a 5A Mississippi State Championship and a 30-3 record as a senior.

Averaging 24.0 points and 7.0 assists per game in that final year at Biloxi, Canaan surprisingly chose to look primarily at smaller college programs, fearing that he wouldn’t see significant minutes at a high-major school.

“I went with Murray State because I [had] a good chance of starting as a freshman,’’ he told the Biloxi Sun Herald. “They [lost] their top two guards and Murray State goes to the NCAA Tournament every other year. I [figured I could] get exposure for the NBA.”

Unlike many prospects in this year’s draft class, Canaan expended all four years of his college eligibility before leaving for the NBA. He notes that the extra time spent at Murray State was beneficial in helping him develop his game.

“I’m a lot stronger than [the other draft prospects],” he said. “I can be physical, and I can shoot the basketball just as well as some of the other guards.”

And the numbers back him up.

After averaging 10.4 and 11.7 points per game in his freshman and sophomore seasons, respectively, Canaan took off as a junior, averaging 19.0 points on 46.8% from the field and 45.6% from beyond the arc en route to conference Player of the Year honors.

While many players would have looked to make the jump to the NBA after putting together such an impressive campaign, Canaan returned to school for his final season.

After becoming the 38th member of Murray State’s 1,000-Point Club during as a junior, he continued his dominance as a senior, becoming just the sixth member of the school’s 2,000-Point Club, on March 8, 2013.

Donning navy and gold, Canaan lit up scoreboards and made headlines, being named to seven All-American teams during his senior season.

Notching an average of 29.7 minutes per game over his four years at Murray, he had plenty of opportunities to show off his skills.

Despite Canaan’s storied career, perhaps his most memorable collegiate moment came as the result of a broken play against Southeast Missouri State as a freshman in 2010. 

With the shot clock running down, he received a pass at the top of the key. Making a move to his left in an attempt to create space, the ball was stripped loose and bounced off of his leg and towards the half-court line. After sliding to his knees in order to collect the ball and avoid a backcourt violation, Canaan was forced to shoot from 45 feet out while down on one knee.

Amazingly, his shot found twine, and the ensuing video posted by Murray State went viral, garnering more than two million views on YouTube.

Canaan recognizes that he doesn’t have the name recognition of some of the draft’s top prospects, but knows that all he has to do is to convince just one NBA talent evaluator to take a chance on him.

“I’m going to go in every day as if it’s my last,” he told reporters at the combine. “I’m not going to take one day for granted, and I’m going to go out there and compete with whoever is out there. I’m out there trying to win.”

The 22-year-old says he’s happy with his performances in predraft workouts thus far, but knows that his best has yet to be put on display.

“A lot of people might say I’m too nice,” Canaan joked. “Going to the next level, I’m going to be with a lot of older guys so I have to get that respect.”

If he keeps doing what he’s doing, respect is something Canaan shouldn’t have a problem getting. 

For an in-depth look at this year's draft, including dynamic prospect profiles, frequently updated rankings, mock drafts from around the web, and more, check out the 2013 SIXERS.COM DRAFT CENTER

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