By Frank McLean
The much awaited visit of this season’s top pick from June’s NBA Draft, Canadian Andrew Wiggins, finally occurred Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. There was a buzz in the building as the local boy came home to play his childhood heroes, the Raptors, for the first time in a regular season game.
The anticipation from waiting to see the next generation’s superstar was palatable as many Canadians view Wiggins as “The Next One”, a player who will ascend to the throne currently occupied by King James.
Wiggins leads all rookies in scoring averaging 15.7 points per game. He is fourth in steals with 1.08 per game and fifth in rebounding at 4.3 per game. His stats line has given him the top rookie award for the months of November, December, January, February and chances are he is the morning line favourite to cop the award in March too.
Wiggins was one of only eight players the Timberwolves dressed in Toronto as his young team has been ravaged by injuries. Once again, he showed flashes of the pure athletic ability that the basketball gods gave him, but you can see he is starting to hit the rookie wall. It’s something all first year NBA players must work through.
When you play in the NCAA and you are lucky enough to make to the final game of the NCAA Tournament, you play 40-games tops and game number 40 in the NBA is often the magic number that the back-to-back nights and the four games in five nights hits you, but you have to hand it to the kid, he wants to play in all 82 games.
“He wants to play all 82 games,” Wolves coach Sam Mitchell said. “He’s a rookie and he is learning to get mentally tough. Learning how to push through this is part of the process, I’m proud of him, of his effort”.
That’s high praise from Mitchell who does not hand out compliments to rookies easily. Afterwards in the post game media scrum, you could not wipe the smile off Wiggins face.
Before the game he and fellow Canadian teammate and 2013 first overall draft pick Anthony Bennett met Prime Minister Stephen Harper who had made the trip from Ottawa to see Wiggins play live.
“It was great,” Wiggins said. “It’s like meeting the President.”
That’s what made this such a special night for Canadian basketball. Twenty years ago when I started covering the NBA if someone told me that Canadians would be first overall draft picks in the NBA I would have thought they were crazy. Now Canadian Prime Minister Harper has just met with two Canadians chosen first overall in the NBA Draft playing for the same team.
There are 28 Canadians playing in this year’s NCAA basketball tournament. So, there are many more basketball playing Canucks coming and that means there are going to be more nights of Canadian superstars coming to Toronto very soon.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.