NEW YORK – For the second year in a row, a player from the land of maple syrup and hockey was selected with the first pick in the NBA Draft. Last year Anthony Bennett shockingly became the first Canadian born player to be picked first overall when the Cavs decided to roll the dice on the small forward. This year it came as no surprise when Andrew Wiggins was the first name commissioner Adam Silver called to the stage.
Wiggins had some pretty good company from his homeland, Nik Stauskas was selected eighth by the Sacramento Kings and Tyler Ennis was picked 18th overall by the Phoenix Suns. It was the first time in the history of the NBA that three kids from Canada were selected in first round. If you needed proof that there is more to do in Canada besides watch hockey, this was all of the evidence you needed.
This could also be just the tip of the ice burg, pun intended, especially if the Canadian trio lives up to the hype.
“I think it’s huge. Like I said before, it opens doors for all the youth and everyone in Canada. It gives them hope, you know, because coming up when I was in Canada, I wasn’t ranked or nothing,” Wiggins said on Thursday night after being selected by the Cavs. “I wasn’t known. I didn’t have no offers or anything like that.”
The lack of national attention put a chip on Wiggins’ shoulder that propelled him to keep working.
“But I just kept my head straight and kept working on my game and look where I am today,” he said. “I just think it gives everyone in Canada hope that they can accomplish what I do because it’s possible if they work hard.”
For Ennis, the ability to play international basketball and learn a different style of play helped his confidence blossom.
“It’s [playing internationally] helped a lot, you know having to adjust to the FIBA style of play. I was having to adjust to playing against pros who were coming right out of high school. In the U19 I was able to lead the tournament in scoring and I was able to show what I can do.”
Growing up in a country where the sport you love is basically the redheaded stepchild of the country is difficult, but staying in the country after realizing that the sport you love is also your destiny is even harder. It’s the reason why Stauskas had to leave his native land.
“I left Canada when I was 15 years old and my parents didn’t want me to leave,” he said. “But I felt like I had to in order to get to this point because I didn’t feel like there was that same kind of support of basketball in Canada.”
What we are currently observing is the evolution of a sport in a country. The key point in the shift of basketball’s popularity in Canada is tied to the introduction of the Toronto Raptors in 1995. Having an NBA team that you can consistently watch on television gave the kids in Canada a much easier outlet to discover the NBA. You can bet that at some point in their childhood development Wiggins, Stauskas and Ennis were mesmerized by the beauty of a young Vince Carter.
“[Watching the Raptors] was very important. I grew up a huge Raptors fan. Having them on TV all of the time gives you a team to watch and look up to,” Stauskas told NBCSports.com. “Especially having guys like Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady around that team growing up. Those were my guys, that’s who I looked up to.”
Every NBA draft is a celebration of the next wave of young talent (except for the disaster that was the 2013 NBA Draft), but when you think about how important it is to have idols growing up, the 2014 NBA Draft could be the reason why the next generation of Canadian kids decide to pick up a basketball.
“I really hope that the eight, nine, ten year old kids that are starting to play basketball in Canada look up to us,” Stauskas said. “Hopefully I inspire someone, because I was that kid growing up.”