June 26, 2014 2:10 pm

Besides Wiggins, bevy of Canadian talent on display at NBA draft

WATCH: Andrew Wiggins is happy to be drafted by any team, but hopes he goes number one

NEW YORK – Andrew Wiggins and Nik Stauskas once played together on an under-17 team at a tournament in Las Vegas.

Stauskas was 15 years old at the time. Wiggins was only 13. On one particularly eye-popping play, Stauskas fed Wiggins with a beautiful pass that the young phenom finished off with a huge dunk.

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Six years later, the two Canadians were seated some 20 feet from each other in a ballroom at a posh Manhattan hotel, speaking with the media on the eve of the NBA draft.

They talked about that tournament and marvelled at where they are now. They talked about dreaming big, and being on the cusp of realizing those dreams.

Wiggins is poised to become the second Canadian selected No. 1 overall, while Stauskas and fellow Canadian Tyler Ennis are also expected to go in the first round in what would be the most successful draft in Canadian basketball history.

“We all had hoop dreams, we all wanted to play in the NBA,” Wiggins said of the Canadian kids he grew up playing alongside.

“It’s huge, especially having three people that high in the draft. I don’t think that’s ever been done before in Canada, maybe we’ve had one or two. But now we have three guys.”

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Wiggins, Stauskas and Ennis are three of the 20 players invited both to New York for the pre-draft festivities and to the green room at Barclays Center for Thursday night’s draft.

Wiggins, the 19-year-old from Vaughan, Ont., is the star, but Canadian pride was the theme of Wednesday’s session with the media. One American reporter even asked each of the trio if they had ever played hockey. (No for all three.)

“It’s cool,” said Stauskas. “I’ve watched these kids grow up for the last 10 years, the same way they’ve watched me grow up. To see us all together now and all the success (we had) at the college level, and the NBA level, it’s crazy to see.

“I really hope that the eight, nine, 10-year-old kids who are starting to play basketball in Canada, I hope they look up to us, and I hope we inspire someone. . . I’m really proud of these guys. I love being Canadian and I hope people recognize that.”

The Cleveland Cavaliers are expected to take either Wiggins, who starred at Kansas in his one season there, or Duke forward Jabari Parker with their No. 1 pick. Rumblings around the league Wednesday had the Cavs torn about which talented player to take.

Wiggins wasn’t afraid to admit he has his sights set on the top spot.

“That’s more of the competitive side, for me, just wanting to be above everybody else, not wanting anyone to go ahead of me,” said Wiggins, looking smart in a pale blue button up. “I still want to go one.”

Wiggins, a genetically-gifted six-foot-eight guard – he’s the son of an NBA player and Olympic sprinter – would be the second consecutive Canadian to go No. 1 should the Cavs take him Thursday. The Cavs selected fellow Canadian Anthony Bennett first overall last season.

Wiggins, the busiest player in room Wednesday, surrounded by several dozen journalists, leads a bumper crop of Canadians that could see as many as five to eight selected Thursday night.

“It’s crazy, just because this is the NBA. And when you think of that way, it’s crazy to see how far we’ve all come,” said Stauskas, a Mississauga, Ont., native.

“I remember playing AAU with Andrew,” he added of the Grassroots Canada team that played in that Vegas tournament. “First time I ever saw him, he did a 360 behind-the-back dunk, and I’m like, ‘I think this kid is going to the NBA.’ To see it finally happen, and to see all these kids here, it’s awesome.”

Ennis, a 19-year-old from Brampton, Ont., believes year’s draft will forever change the game in Canada.

“To have potentially two No. 1 one picks (back to back), is something that five years ago people would have believed. To have eight people in the draft, I don’t think people would have believed that as well,” said Ennis, in grey dress shirt and plaid bow tie.

“(It’s) something that Canada is going to remember forever.”

The most Canadians drafted in a single draft year is three – it happened in 1983 (Leo Rautins, Stewart Granger, and Ron Crevier) and again in 2012 (Andrew Nicholson, Kris Joseph, Robert Sacre).

The trio have travelled a similarly-tough road from those early playing days to eventually finding themselves together again in a New York ballroom. All three left home at a young age to attend prep school in the U.S. in order to be noticed by an NCAA school.

“If you weren’t determined, if you really didn’t want it, it wasn’t going to happen,” Stauskas said. “For me, I left Canada when I was 15 years old and my parents didn’t want me to leave but I felt like I had to.

“To get to this point where I am, that’s something I felt I needed to do because there wasn’t that same kind of support of basketball in Canada. All of us went through a lot just to get here.”

Well worth it as they were all smiles Wednesday, patiently answering questions for half an hour. They agreed the reality of what’s about to unfold hadn’t quite hit home yet, but they were doing their best to soak up the experience.

“I’m enjoying my time, I’m enjoying the city. . . You only go up there one time, so you’ve got to make the best out of it,” Wiggins said. “You don’t want to look back two days from now and think: ‘I should have done that.’ You’ve just got to live for the moment right now.”

Wiggins admitted to feeling “anxious.”

“You want to know what’s going to happen, because tomorrow is the day that your destiny, everything changes, the city you live in, where you’re going to spend the next four years,” he said.

“It’s just exciting,” added Stauskas, who had dashed out to get his hair trimmed moments before Wednesday’s media availability. “I can’t help but smile and be happy when I’m here, and enjoy it.

“I’m anxious to see just what city am I going to end up in? Who are my teammates going to be? I’m excited to figure it out.”

All three have people they’ve sought out for advice over the past few nerve-wracking weeks. For Wiggins, it was his dad Mitchell.

“I always talk to him about. He just said take it day by day. Don’t think about the past, don’t think about the future, just take it day by day,” Wiggins said. “Just stay humble, and the sky is the limit.”

Stauskas, a sharp-shooter who’s somewhat of a YouTube star for his videos of draining three-pointers on his backyard basketball court, said he speaks regularly with Steve Nash.

“Steve is one of those guys I can go to, I was just texting him before this,” said the Michigan product. “He’s one of those guys I can always go to for advice or anything like that.

“I know I’ve always got my parents as well. Even though they don’t know much about this process they kind of keep me level-headed.”

Ennis, a savvy point guard who led Syracuse to a No. 3 seed in March Madness in his one season with the Orange, reached out to Cavs forward Tristan Thompson, a fellow Brampton native and Grassroots Canada alumnus.

“He was telling me just to enjoy it,” said Ennis. “I think whenever you talk to the NBA players that went through the draft, they tell you how much fun they had and what an experience it was. I’m just going to enjoy it regardless of the result.”

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