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Canadian Nik Stauskas makes NBA debut against team he grew up watching

10/05/2014 09:54 EDT | Updated 12/05/2014 05:59 EST
VANCOUVER - Nik Stauskas was nine years old when he was selected to play one-on-one with then-Raptors star Vince Carter at an open team scrimmage at Toronto's Air Canada Centre.

So it was fitting that Stauskas, now 20, should make his NBA debut on Canadian soil, against the team he grew up watching.

Speaking with a half dozen reporters pre-game, the Sacramento Kings rookie looked forward to hearing O Canada played at Rogers Arena.

"Definitely that will be cool," he said. "Especially being my first NBA game, back in Canada. It's definitely cool."

The sharp-shooter — famous for his YouTube videos of shooting threes on his backyard basketball court at his Mississauga, Ont., home — had 12 points in 25:56 of court time.

Stauskas entered the game late in the first quarter, and drained his first shot — a three-pointer.

The six-foot-six shooting guard is part of a Canadian basketball bumper crop, and one of three Canadians taken in the first round of last summer's NBA draft. Cleveland took Andrew Wiggins at No. 1, while Tyler Ennis went 18th to the Phoenix Suns.

Stauskas, whose dad Paul, mom Ruta, and brother Peter were at Rogers Arena for the game, said his first NBA training camp has been "great."

"It's pretty tiring, we've been competing a lot and getting after it," Stauskas said prior to tipoff. "I feel like everyone is starting to get more confident, starting to gel a little bit more, so today should be a good test for us going up against some new faces and really see how far we've come."

He figured there'd be some nerves in his first NBA game, which was played in front of a sold-out crowd.

"Maybe a little bit, the butterflies and stuff like that, but I feel like I'm starting to get comfortable with this group of guys, and with all the summer league games we had and training camp, I feel pretty settled in," Stauskas said.

"I'm sure when I get out there, there'll be a little bit of nerves, but once we get in the flow of the game, I'll probably settle down."

Much has been made in camp about the competition for minutes between Stauskas and fellow shooting guard Ben McLemore, who was drafted by the Kings seventh overall a year earlier.

"I get it, because it's everyone's job to kind of stir the pot a little bit," Stauskas said. "This is professional basketball, so everyone's competing for minutes, everyone's competing for a job, so we don't hold anything against each other. I feel like we're great friends, on and off the court. But when we're at practice, we go at each other, it's all about competition."

Kings coach Michael Malone said Stauskas was drafted to help fill a void in the team's offence — but he brings more than just his long-range shooting ability.

"We were 27th in the NBA in three-point percentage. Nik has great range on his shot. He's got good size," Malone said. "He's a better athlete than advertised. The thing I like more about him than anything is just his IQ. I like how smart he is. He has a good feel for the game. He can make a play for himself. He can make a play for his teammate."

Malone said there was criticism after the Kings drafted shooting guards two years in a row, but he said McLemore and Stauskas fit well together.

"We played them together quite often in Vegas in summer league. And we won that championship," he said. "We really like to talk about positionless basketball. We don't need to have a true two guard on the floor, a true small forward on the floor. You put your five best players on the floor and let them make basketball plays, make them read off of each other and play off of each other, and good things will happen. . . But it's also fun watching them compete and go after each other.

“I love competition. I think it's healthy. The cream will always rise to the top. I really feel that Nik is going to help Ben become a better player, and Ben is going to help Nik become a better player."

Stauskas didn't play for Canada's men's team this past summer so he could focus on his NBA duties.

"I was busy with summer league and stuff like that," Stauskas said. "I thought it would be better to rest and prepare for Kings basketball, I told them after my rookie year I'd feel a little bit better and would join them in qualifying for the Olympics."

The Kings also have Toronto's Sim Bhullar in camp — a seven-foot-five centre who became the first player of Indian descent to sign an NBA contract when he inked a training camp deal with Sacramento.

The Kings and Raptors play each other again Tuesday in Sacramento, then the Kings head to China to continue their pre-season.

"I hope so," Stauskas said, on the chances of doing some sightseeing. "We only have two games and we're there for quite a while, so hopefully I'll have some time to see the Great Wall of China or some other cool parts of their culture."

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