TORONTO - The moment Nik Stauskas had been waiting for since he was a boy finally came late in the first quarter Wednesday night.
He stepped on the court of Toronto's Air Canada Centre as a professional player.
The Sacramento Kings rookie scored eight points in a 119-102 loss to the Raptors in what was a homecoming of sorts for the 21-year-old who grew up shooting hoops on his backyard basketball court in Mississauga, Ont., just down the highway from the ACC.
"I've been in this building 100 times as a fan, this is my first time as a pro," Stauskas said. "Everywhere I looked I saw someone who knew me and started waving at me, so I tried to focus as much as I could on the game and not get distracted, and hopefully now I can go say hi to a bunch of people."
Wednesday night wasn't his first time on the Raptors' court. Stauskas was a nine-year-old at an open practice when then-Raptors star Vince Carter plucked the boy out of the crowd for some one-on-one fun. Stauskas hit a three-pointer on Carter, who promptly tackled Stauskas to the floor, and, as his dad Paul remembered it, gave his son "a noogie."
Some 200 friends and family members — many in No. 10 Stauskas jerseys — were at the ACC on Wednesday to cheer on the Canadian, who was part of one of Canada's most successful NBA draft classes. His mom Ruta had purchased a block of 50 tickets alone for the closest friends and family. His dad Paul followed the action with a video camera in hand.
"Section 104. I saw them," Stauskas said, smiling.
The Canadian checked into the game to a warm ovation.
"I heard 'em," he said. "It was good to hear that, and it definitely helped me take out the nerves coming into the game here, the support."
Stauskas went in with 2:09 to go in the first quarter, and scored his first points a minute into the second, running away from his defender to drain an open 21-foot jumper.
There was some worry that Wednesday's game wasn't going to happen. The Kings were in New York to play the Knicks on Monday but the city was pounded by a snowstorm and that game was cancelled.
"I got really scared when they started talking about the storm because they were like 'We might not be able to get to Toronto,' and I was like 'Man. Don't do this to me,'" Stauskas said, laughing. "It was good we were able to get out here, and just happy (Tuesday) to go back home and see some family and friends. It was a lot of fun."
It wasn't quite the storybook return Stauskas would have liked to write however. The Kings' eighth overall pick in last summer's NBA draft hasn't seen the floor as much as he'd like. In two recent games, against the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trailblazers, Stauskas didn't play a minute.
He came into Wednesday's affair averaging 3.7 points and 14.2 minutes in 41 games off the bench.
"I've obviously struggled this year," said the six-foot-six guard. "Everybody's just told me keep my head up. For example. . . Ben (McLemore) kind of went through the same things as I have this year. Everybody's just told me keep working hard, keep my head up and good things will come."
The toughest adjustment for the former University of Michigan star has been "mental," Stauskas said.
"Just being ready all the time, not focusing too much on the highs and the lows," he said. "A good example, Klay (Thompson of Golden State) the other night had 37 on us in a quarter and then last night he went 0-for-13 from three.
"It's crazy how from night to night things can change like that and you can't let it affect you too much. Just going through times where I wasn't playing a lot or I wasn't playing well, I didn't know how to handle it day-to-day, with those kinds of things going on. I've just kind of learned how to stay even-keeled more often and not worry about those things all that much."
Stauskas's name has also been swirling about in trade rumours, which he said was a surprise.
"But this is the NBA, I feel like everyone is in trade rumours at some point," he said.
Growing up a huge fan of the game, it's been tough to switch that part off. He still checks his phone nightly to see, for example, how many points LeBron James had.
"I'm still a fan of the game, that doesn't change at all, but you try to separate it a little bit because you're competing against these guys," Stauskas said.
"When you're a kid, you look at these guys like they're not human, at least that's how I saw them growing up. You've just got to realize everyone puts their pants on the same way in the morning, they're just like you, and we're all competing against each other."
Stauskas was complimentary of the Raptors.
"They've got a great team, very talented, one of the best teams in the east and one of the best teams in the league," he said. "And DeMar (DeRozan) has been out for the majority of the season with that (groin) injury but I think when everyone on this team is healthy and they're playing together, they're a really tough team to stop."
As for Stauskas's first-year struggles, Kings coach and former Raptor Tyrone Corbin said the young guard is going through the growing pains of any NBA rookie.
"He's learning what's going to give him a chance in this league," Corbin said. "He's a shooter. . . (he has to) find his shots, be ready for his shots, when you get the double teams on the weak side, to come off and be ready when the shot's there, if not read and take things that are available for him quickly.
"On defence, his body has to get stronger to be able to defend guys in this league. But he's working hard, he's a rookie in this league so he's trying to find his way."