Wiggins Leads Record Draft for Canadian Basketball

Basketball, which was invented by a Canadian in the U.S. more than a century ago, is finally producing some top young talent in Canada.

Andrew Wiggins of the Toronto area was chosen first overall in the National Basketball Association draft last night, joining two other Canadians selected in the first round. It was the second straight year that a Canadian was chosen first in the draft, and the four players picked was a record for a country better known for hockey than hoops.

“It’s a great moment for basketball in Canada,” Rowan Barrett, the senior men’s national basketball team assistant general manager and executive vice president, said in a phone interview yesterday midway through the first round. “Two years in a row to have the No. 1 pick when there are millions of players in the world is a tremendous, tremendous feat.”

Moments after Vaughan, Ontario-born Wiggins was selected first by the Cleveland Cavaliers, ESPN analyst Bill Simmons summed it up: “Canada is invading our draft.”

Joining Wiggins in the first round was Mississauga, Ontario native Nik Stauskas, who was taken eighth by the Sacramento Kings, and Brampton, Ontario’s Tyler Ennis, who was picked 18th by the Phoenix Suns. This was the first time three Canadian players -- all from the Toronto area -- were drafted in the first round, a testament to burgeoning talent and increasing popularity north of the U.S. border.

Pioneer Nash

Dwight Power of Toronto was taken 45th by the Charlotte Hornets. The Toronto Raptors, meanwhile, chose a Brazilian, Bruno Caboclo, with the 20th pick and University of Connecticut forward DeAndre Daniels in the second round.

Since Steve Nash was taken by the Suns as the 15th pick in 1996, only eight Canadian players have been selected in the first round of the draft. From 2001 through 2010, no Canadian players were drafted at all. Those days are gone: in three of the past four drafts, the Cavaliers picked three players from Ontario -- Wiggins and Toronto’s Anthony Bennett and Tristan Thompson -- in the top five, and this year a record eight Canadians could have been drafted.

“It opens the door for all the youth and everyone in Canada,” the 6-foot-8 Wiggins told reporters in New York. “It gives them hope, because coming up when I was in Canada, I wasn’t ranked or nothing. I wasn’t known, I didn’t have no offers or anything like that.”

‘First Generation’

When asked about the catalyst for the surge in Canadian talent, Barrett first credited the country’s “relaxing immigration laws,” noting Stauskas’ dual citizenship in Canada and Lithuania, Wiggins’s American heritage, and Bennett and Thompson’s Jamaican background. Other reasons include stronger provincial and club organizations and the presence of the NBA in Toronto with the Raptors, which captivated the league with its fan support last season. Vancouver also had the Grizzlies from 1995 through 2001 before they moved to Memphis.

“This is the first generation of children who grew up with the NBA as a part of their culture,” Barrett said “Instead of picking up a hockey stick, they were picking up a basketball.”

Invented by Canadian James Naismith in 1891, basketball is the second most popular team sport among new Canadians behind soccer and is the country’s sixth-most played sport with 354,000 participants, according to a report published in June by Solutions Research Group.

No Zone

Ontario Basketball board president Greg Verner attributes the province’s record of producing top talent to its adoption of a skills-based, longer-term player development model, an approach the Ontario Soccer Association began imitating in its own leagues this summer.

Basketball leagues in Ontario, for example, enforce a policy that prohibits players under the age of 13 from using a zone defense. The rule lends to more ball movement and shooting opportunities, better defensive footwork and improved court awareness.

The individual Canadian triumphs have yet to translate to national team successes. The team, ranked 25th in the world, didn’t qualify for this summer’s World Cup basketball tournament. Still, coaches and fans are hopeful.

“If they all come together and play for Canada, that moves us up in the world quickly,” Verner said.

“If I’m Jay Triano and Steve Nash,” he said, referring to the Canadian senior men’s national basketball coach and general manager, “I’m licking my lips.”

(Earlier versions of this story corrected the name of Charlotte’s NBA team and clarified that basketball was invented by a Canadian, not in Canada.)

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