Canada has not qualified for the Olympics since 2000. Vancouver lost the Grizzlies to Memphis in 2001. The Toronto Raptors, the nation's only NBA franchise, have reached the playoffs just three times since 2003.
Yet, on Thursday night, three Canadians were selected within the first 18 picks of the NBA draft. For the second straight draft, the first overall pick was a Canadian with UNLV's Anthony Bennett last year and Kansas guard/forward Andrew Wiggins this year, both going to the Cavaliers.
"It opens doors for all the youth and everyone in Canada," Wiggins says of the Canadian influx of NBA prospects. "It gives them hope, you know, 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."
Wiggins was born in Toronto on Feb. 23, 1995. His mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins won silver medals in the 4x100 and 4x400 track relays for Canada at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. His father, Mitchell Wiggins, is a former American NBA player. But Wiggins has only represented Canada in international competitions.
He spent most of his childhood in Vaughan, Ontario, including two high school seasons at Vaughan Secondary School before transferring to Huntington Prep School in West Virginia. Wiggins played one year at Kansas before bouncing for the NBA.
"I just kept my head straight and kept working on my game and look where I am today," Wiggins says. "I just think it gives everyone in Canada hope that they can accomplish what I do because it's possible if they work hard.
Within an hour of Wiggins' selection, Nik Stauskas went No. 8 to the Sacramento Kings. Stauskas played two years at Michigan, coming into his own as a versatile guard. Stauskas started his freshman season as the fourth or fifth option for the Wolverines.
His coming-out party came during Michigan's run to the NCAA championship game in 2013. Stauskas dropped 22 points on six three-pointers in a 79-59 thrashing of Florida in the Elite Eight.
Stauskas made even larger strides in 2013-14. He added the ability to drive and dish into his repertoire, along with his deadly shooting touch. His 17.5 points and 3.3 assists per game propelled him to a Big Ten Conference Player of the Year Award.
Of course, Stauskas is the first Canadian to earn such an honor.
"We're very excited for the future of Canada basketball," Stauskas said Thursday. "I feel like, if we really all commit to coming in and working hard and coming together, I think we could have a really good team."
Before the draft, on Thursday, Stauskas said he was in contact with Steve Nash, hands-down Canada's best NBA player of all time. Stauskas said Nash's two NBA MVP awards gave hope for children like him. His presence made skinny Canadian guards believe they could compete.
Like Wiggins, Stauskas started high school in Ontario, at Loyola Catholic in his hometown of Mississauga, but he shifted to the United States. Stauskas attended both the South Kent School in Connecticut and the St. Mark's School in Southborough, Mass., before going to Michigan.
"I believed in myself, and I don't think many other people did," Stauskas says. "This is something I always felt was a possibility for me, and I just kept working my hardest to make it happen."
Within an hour of the Stauskas pick, a third Canadian came off the board. The Phoenix Suns selected Syracuse guard Tyler Ennis with the 18th pick. Ennis averaged 12.9 points and 5.5 assists in his one season for the Orange. He earned All-ACC Freshmen Team and All-ACC Defensive Team honors.
Ennis did it all in upstate New York, not far from his home in Etobicoke, Ontario.
"This is a big year," Ennis says. "We had the No. 1 pick. We had Nik go in the lottery, myself, and a bunch of other Canadians are still waiting to hear their name called. At the end of the night, Canada has something to be proud of."
Stanford's Dwight Powell was the fourth and final Canadian to be selected at No. 45 by the Charlotte Hornets.
Like the earlier two Canadian picks, Ennis started high school in Canada at Father Henry Carr Catholic Secondary School in Etobicoke. Then he transferred to powerhouse Saint Benedict'sin Newark, N.J.
For some NBA prospects, moving north and experiencing the cold is a culture shock. Ennis' Canadian roots mean he will be going the other way in the Arizona desert.
"This is probably going to be the first year not seeing snow, but I think change is good," he says.
Wiggins, Stauskas and Ennis have all known each other for a number of years, playing with and against each other since their AAU days. They represent a growing pool of Canadians in the NBA. Wiggins joins a Cavaliers team with two strong Canadians already in Bennett and Tristan Thompson.
"I played with Tristan for a summer in AAU and I played with Anthony for a while on the AAU circuit and the national level too," Wiggins says. "I'm just excited. The chemistry is already there with those guys. I played with them already. I think big things are to come."
The question is how big. Along with Wiggins, Stauskas, Ennis, Bennett, Thompson and Nash, other Canadians in the NBA are Joel Anthony, Samuel Dalembert, Cory Joseph, Andrew Nicholson, Kelly Olynyk and Robert Sacre. This week has featured so much news regarding the rapid popularity growth of soccer in the U.S. In Canada, the same can be said for basketball. In 2013-14 playoffs, the Toronto Raptors won their first division title in seven years, and the growing fan support was evident.
To reach the next level, Canada needs to make noise in International competition. Qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in Rio is about to heat up.
"I'm not saying we're going to win a gold medal right now, but I'm saying that we could have a chance to compete at that level if we all commit to it," Stauskas says.
When asked about the Olympics and competing with the United States, Ennis blushes. Moments before, he was selected to an NBA team. One goal is through and another is being built.
"I think we could put together a really good team, but 2016 might be too early," he says. "The U.S. is going to have a tough team regardless of what year it is."
From an American perspective, "Our friends to the North" could soon become our biggest rival. Wiggins, Stauskas and Ennis will be right in the middle of it. Oh, Canada.
"I think once we get in the gym together, getting chemistry and just getting all the talent in one gym for the first time, I think that will be a big moment for Canada," Ennis says. "I think not only 2016, but the following Olympics. I think we'll be able to make a run at it."
For a nation that is not just producing players but top-notch NBA talent, Thursday was another milestone night as three of its brightest stars had their own journeys take a new turn.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.
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