There’s going to be a lot of love for a rookie in an “away” jersey when Andrew Wiggins takes to the Air Canada Centre against the Raptors Wednesday night.
With family, friends and high school teammates in the house, it will be the first time the Canadian shooting forward plays pro ball on home turf, just a short drive from Vaughan, where he grew up.
“For the people that don’t see him regularly I think it’s a big deal. They get to see how much better he got from high school to the NBA,” said Roshane Roberts, who played with Wiggins on the Ontario AAAA champion Vaughan Secondary School Voyageurs in 2011.
“We’re just really excited . . . People really want to see him play.”
Though his Minnesota Timberwolves are on the tail end of a woeful NBA season — their 14-52 record is good enough for last in the West — the 2014 first overall draft pick has already been compared with, and matched up against, active legends LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
Wiggins has posted some respectable stats, averaging 15.7 points per game with a .435 shooting percentage from the field. He’s also won every rookie of the month award in the Western Conference so far this season, solidifying the chance he’ll don the rookie of the year mantle as well.
It’s all been exciting to watch for Gus Gymnopoulos, who coached Wiggins at Vaughan Secondary during that championship-winning season in 2010-11. Wiggins was in Grade 10 at the time, the youngest player on the senior boys’ team — and also clearly the most talented. Gymnopoulos recalls seeing Wiggins display his natural hops by touching the 12-foot mark of the backboard when he was just 15.
“He was by far the best youth-age player I had seen with my own two eyes. By far,” said the coach, who is going to Wednesday’s game with his wife.
In a segment that aired this week on TSN, Wiggins also spoke highly of his old coach, telling the network Gymnopoulos “was one of the people that really helped” get him to this point in his career.
“It made me feel very, very warm. It was amazing,” said Gymnopoulos. “That just really shows what kind of person he is.”
Up the highway in Kingston, Ont., another former teammate of Wiggins’ was feeling gutted that he won’t be able to take in Wednesday’s game in Toronto. Cy Samuels, who was captain of the Voyageurs when Wiggins was on the team, said the rookie’s homecoming feels like a victory that’s shared by many with roots in the GTA basketball community that helped nurture the future pro.
“I know a lot of people are going to go watch this game and share this moment with him being back in Toronto,” said Samuels, 21, who still plays ball at Queen’s University.
“To see how good he was and how much room he had to grow was just scary,” he said.
“People here witnessed everything . . . It’s like a triumph, in a way.”