Lewenberg: Raptors miss out on Canadian prize in historic draft

Josh Lewenberg, TSN 1050
6/27/2014 2:16:31 PM
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TORONTO - As anticipated, Thursday night's NBA Draft turned out to be a historic evening for Canadian basketball, however the Raptors, the country's lone team, became reluctant spectators despite their best efforts to get in on the festivities.

In many ways it was a celebration of how far the country has come and how much the sport has grown within it. In total, four Canadian players were selected - setting a league record - including three in the top 18, all from the Greater Toronto Area.

For the second consecutive year Canada produced the top pick, 19-year-old phenom and Vaughan-native Andrew Wiggins, who will join last year's No. 1 selection Anthony Bennett, Tristan Thompson and Dwight Powell - picked in the second-round of Thursday's draft - in Cleveland.

Mississauga's Nik Stauskas followed suit, going to the Sacramento Kings at pick No. 8 before the Phoenix Suns - owners of the 18th pick - nabbed Brampton point guard Tyler Ennis, a player that sat atop the Raptors' board when he heard his name called.

It was a bittersweet moment for the 19-year-old Ennis, who was finally realizing his lifelong dream, albeit two picks away from beginning his career with his hometown team. The Raptors, drafting 20th, struck out on their top target but it wasn't for a lack of effort or interest.

"We tried everything," Dwane Casey admitted shortly after the first-round concluded. "It just didn't work out."

Masai Ujiri and his staff tracked Ennis throughout his freshman year at Syracuse and quickly became enamoured with his poise at the point guard position. Until recently they believed there was little chance he would fall to them, or even come close.

With his stock fluctuating leading up to the draft, Ujiri hoped Ennis would be available to them, also exploring several scenarios to trade up and even entice the Suns to give him up after the selection had been made. With Ennis off the board, Ujiri opted for the next player on his wish list, Brazilian mystery man Bruno Caboclo

"We decided we lost one," said the Raptors' general manager, "we're not going to lose the other one. So we jumped on it."

The Raptors came that close to drafting what would have been the first Canadian selected in their 20-year franchise history, but given the rate in which the country is producing high-level talent it's only a matter of time until that vision - which once seemed like a pipe dream - becomes a reality.

"Ennis was a target for us but he was picked by another team," Ujiri lamented. "We will have Canadians on our team. Definitely we will have Canadian players on our team. They're all over the league now. The last two first picks have been Canadian."

"We tried and it didn't work out this time," he continued, "but we're glad there's a lot a lot of them in the league and eventually we'll get a couple of Canadians here, trust me. It'll come, we'll get them here."

Thursday served as a friendly reminder, Canada isn't going anywhere.

After hemming and hawing for weeks, the Cavaliers finally decided on Wiggins with their No. 1 overall pick. Decked out in a captivating black suit decorated with white floral print and topped off with a black bow tie, the one and done Kansas star couldn't hide his joy when first-year commissioner Adam Silver called his name.

"A thousand thoughts are going through my head right now," Wiggins said minutes later. "It's a dream come true. I've been dreaming of this moment since I was a little kid. My dream was just to make the NBA and now going to high school and college the opportunity of going number one came into talk and now I accomplished that. So it's a crazy feeling right now. I don't even know how I feel. It doesn't feel real right now."

"I always believed it," Stauskas added. "I believed in myself and I don't think many other people did but this is something I've always felt is a possibility for me and I just kept working my hardest to make it happen. It's a cliche but dreams really do come true when you put all your effort into it."

What could this night mean for the country?

"I just think it's huge," Wiggins said. "It opens doors for all the youth and everyone in Canada. It gives them hope. Because coming up when I was Canada, I wasn't ranked or nothing, I wasn't known. I didn't have no offers or anything like that. But I just kept my head straight and kept working on my game and look where I am today. So I just think it gives everyone hope that they can do the same thing and accomplish whatever I do because it's possible if they work hard."

The Raptors, like most of the 29 other teams, did pass up on four other eligible Canadians that went undrafted Thursday. Montreal's Khem Birch, Calgary's Jordan Bachynski, Toronto-native and reigning Big 12 player of the year Melvin Ejim and the 7-foot-5 Sim Bhullar, also from the Toronto area, didn't hear their name called. Instead, Toronto opted for UConn forward DeAndre Daniels with an early second-round pick and traded the 59th overall pick to the Brooklyn Nets.

Ujiri has maintained that if and when the Raptors do add a Canadian he won't be employed for his passport and he won't be sitting at the end of the bench. The pressure surrounding that type of player in that situation would be unfair, he's said.

All four of the undrafted Canadian players are expected to catch on with Summer League teams, hoping to earn a spot on an NBA roster before weighing their options overseas or in the D-League.

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