Canada is well represented in entertainment, music and, of course, hockey. With teenage hoops sensation Andrew Wiggins leading a wave of young talent from way up north, basketball might soon be a point of pride also.
Steve Nash is Canada's most heralded basketball player, with Bill Wennington, Rick Fox and Jamaal Magloire also having solid careers. But in the athletic Wiggins, Canada appears ready to make its mark on some new territory.Two-time NBA MVP
Wiggins, 18, is viewed as a superstar-in-the making and is expected to be the No. 1 overall selection in the 2014 NBA draft, as well as the primary building block of Canada's international team.
"Everyone last year was trying to figure out a way to get him next year," a longtime NBA scout and ex-player told Yahoo! Sports. "Teams are plotting and preparing for when he gets out of school. Character. Demeanor. Athleticism. Coachable. He makes the game look like it's insanely too easy. While everyone is sweating, he isn't and he jumps over your head. The total package."
A little more than a year ago, Chicago high school star Jabari Parker was viewed as the top recruit in the class of 2013. But that changed when the 6-foot-7 Wiggins stole the spotlight at the annual Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Ore., last year.
The Hoop Summit pits the top 10 American high school players against 10 elite international teens. The alumni list includes Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Parker since the event's inception in 1995. The Americans, led by UCLA-bound swingman Shabazz Muhammad, were expected to win the 2012 Hoop Summit, but Wiggins stole the show with 20 points, two assists, seven rebounds and two steals to lead the World Select team to a surprising 84-75 triumph. The Toronto native also had 17 points, nine rebounds and four assists as the World Select team beat the U.S. again 112-98 in last Saturday's Summit.
"[Muhammad] was viewed as the No. 1 player in the country [in 2012] and me playing well showed I could play with the best when I was that young," Wiggins said. "I've enjoyed and don't mind the attention. It's something I've gotten used to the past couple of years."
Rivals.com ranks the Huntington (W.Va.) Prep senior No. 1 in this year's class, and he has narrowed his prospective colleges down to Kentucky, Kansas, Florida State and North Carolina. Wiggins was the first Canadian to be named the 2013 Naismith Boy's High School Player of the Year, prompting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to tweet: "Just heard the news that the best High School basketball player in the United States is Canadian Andrew Wiggins. Congratulations @22wiggins!"
One NBA general manager told Yahoo! Sports that Wiggins might be the No. 1 pick in this year's draft if he were eligible.
"The athleticism. The ability to get from Point A to Point B with his speed and quickness," the GM said. "He finishes above the rim. I love his composure. Love his poise on the floor."
In October, Wiggins, who at the time was a member of the 2014 recruiting class, decided to reclassify into his original 2013 class because he felt he was ready for the academic and athletic challenges.
Wiggins' fearlessness and confidence are major components of what make him special. His father is former NBA player Mitchell Wiggins; his mother is former Olympic track star Marita Payne-Wiggins, who is Canadian.
The family doesn't agree with the rule that prevents Wiggins from jumping to the NBA from high school, so you can hardly blame him for looking ahead.
"It wouldn't really be intimidating for me [to play in the NBA] because it's always been a dream of mine," Wiggins said. "In a year, hopefully I will be physically and mentally ready to go against the top players in the world."
The United States will remain a power in international basketball because of the sport's popularity and the depth of talent it possesses. Spain, France and Brazil also are expected to remain competitive, although Argentina's reign as a power may be coming to an end because of an aging core. With Wiggins leading the way, Canada could soon join the ranks of the elite.
"Everyone should be worried," Wiggins said.
Current NBA players who hail from Canada include: Tristan Thompson, Joel Anthony, Andrew Nicholson, Cory Joseph, Kris Joseph and Robert Sacre. UNLV forward Anthony Bennett and Gonzaga center Kelly Olynyk are Canadians who are viewed as possible top five draft candidates this year, and other Canadian prospects to keep an eye on are Texas' Myck Kabongo and Gonzaga's Kevin Pangos.
Nash, 39, is the general manager of Canada's national team, but his days of playing internationally are likely over. The Los Angeles Lakers' guard, who is struggling with leg injuries in the Lakers' first-round series against the Spurs, has been talking regularly with Wiggins and says he'll be a "pretty tough player."
"He's a young kid trying to figure it out with tremendous skill, tremendous athleticism," Nash said. "For us, we want to be a support system for him and try to allow him every opportunity to develop his skills and his game and mature as a player and realize his dreams."
Wiggins has the ability to own dual Canadian-American citizenship, but he cannot play for the United States' national team because he has already played for Canada internationally. Frankly, he prefers it that way.
"I'd never want to turn my back on my country like that," Wiggins said of Canada. "That's where I'm from. I have good times here. The program treats me right. USA already has a name for itself as a basketball country. Canada has not really established that yet. I want to be one of the reasons why we establish that."
If he lives up to his immense potential, he will.
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