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Lewenberg: Raptors eye homegrown talent in draft

Josh Lewenberg
5/29/2014 7:07:46 PM
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TORONTO - By the time the Raptors make their selection in next month's NBA draft, provided they stand pat at pick no. 20, three Canadian players should already be off the board.

Thornhill's Andrew Wiggins, a lock to go in the top three, will be the first of that group to hear his name called followed by possible lottery picks in guards Nik Stauskas and Tyler Ennis, all hailing from the Greater Toronto Area.

Fittingly, Ennis' initial stop on the pre-draft circuit came in his hometown, headlining the Raptors' first workout session Thursday morning. The Brampton-raised point guard, like Wiggins and Stauskas, has been on their radar for a while.

"We've tracked him [for] a long time," admitted general manager Masai Ujiri.

"This is one of those deals where we could go to Syracuse as many times as [we wanted], being close to [Toronto], drive up, so I was fortunate enough to go to a couple practices [and] a couple games."

What he saw was a young man at the age of 19 who plays the game and carries himself with poise beyond his years, a common denominator among most of the country's emerging prospects.

"He plays very calm and that's the first thing I noticed," Ujiri said of Ennis, set to enter the NBA following his freshman season at Syracuse. "[He's] very professional and carries himself the right way."

"You see his demeanour and I think he'll make a good professional."

Ujiri has long been enamoured by the prospect of adding a Canadian-born product but remains steadfast in his belief that it would have to be the right player, in the right situation. Understandably, the Raptors GM will not draft a player simply for his passport, rather that player must be able to contribute at the highest level, address a need on the roster and possess the maturity required to strive in a high-pressure scenario. Ennis is a player who would appear to fit the bill.

"I don't think anybody enters the draft just wanting to make a team and be happy there," said Ennis, arguably the best pure point guard in this year's class. "Personally, I want to make an impact. I thought I was ready for the next level when I decided to enter the draft and if I were to end up on Toronto, I would definitely want to make an impact, especially in my home town."

But will he be available to the Raptors at 20?

"I'd be surprised," Ujiri admitted.

Unless the Raptors were to trade up in the draft - a possibility, however unlikely, that Ujiri won't completely rule out - they will likely miss out on that highly touted trio, but given the influx and depth of domestic talent that continues to come out of the country it's only a matter of time until they call a Canadian to the podium.

"I think anybody that's lucky enough to play in Toronto," Ennis said, "with the fan support that was shown in the playoffs and the great organization that the Raptors have, I think anybody that gets drafted here is lucky.

"To have a Canadian would be great for the city, I think everybody would get behind them and I think it would just be a great opportunity."

Of course, the Raptors also own a pair of second-round picks - 37 and 59 - where they could snag one of four other eligible Canadians. 7-foot-2 Calgary-native Jordan Bachynski, last season's NCAA blocked shot leader, was among the participants in Thursday's workouts at the Air Canada Centre, while Quebec's Khem Birch and Toronto's Melvin Ejim and Dwight Powell could audition for the Raptors when sessions resume next week.

"To have so many Canadians in the draft is big for the country and for the most part, most of them are from the Greater Toronto Area, so I think it's great for basketball in Canada and it's great for us individually," Ennis added. "All of us have had very good years at our respective universities and wherever we end up I know everybody that's in the draft that's Canadian is hard working and good people off the court, so I think we'll all be able to find success."

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