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Mendez Nears Top
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Ready to pass Meeks

In the Bonus
Niagara senior Juan Mendez could hold an interesting distinction in a few weeks. He may be the leading scorer not only in this nation but also in a neighboring one.

Mendez, a 6-foot-8 senior forward, is averaging an NCAA-best 25.6 ppg through eight games for the 5-3 Purple Eagles. With 1,710 career points, he is just shy of the No. 2 spot in Niagara scoring history, and only 118 points from breaking the scoring record for Canadian-born players, set by Canisius' Michael Meeks.

Mendez, of Dominican descent, is a native of Montreal, and grew up surrounded by skates and hockey pucks, but gravitated toward football and basketball when he joined SunYouth, an organization similar to the Boys & Girls club. On the advice of a family friend, he went to prep school at Florida Air Academy, was first team all-state and went to Niagara with a scholastic teammate, point guard Alvin Cruz. He is the only one in a family comprised of 12 children to play college basketball.

Mendez was the MAAC Sixth Man of the Year as a freshman and has been one of the league's best players the past three seasons, ranking as high as 21st nationally in scoring at 20.5 ppg as a junior. Last summer, he played for the Canadian national team at the 2004 Four Nations Tournament in China. With his teammates in foul trouble, Mendez was asked to guard an opponent's top scorer for a few minutes. That's how he got to meet Yao Ming, who was playing for Team China.

"It wasn't pretty," Mendez said with a laugh. "I scored on him, though. I couldn't go over him, but I did go around him. That was my moment of glory."

There will be a few others this season, with a near-upset of Providence on opening night having already attracted the attention of ESPN.com's Andy Katz. The scoring record and the continued spot atop Division I's leader board should get Mendez some national recognition.

"People have talked about it," said Mendez, listing the names of some of Canada's best players, such as Steve Nash, Jamaal Magliore and Connecticut's Denham Brown. "I've tried to block it out for now, but it has crossed my mind. It will be a great honor. I'm just fortunate to come along and get the opportunity."

 

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