DOES RED AND WHITE SUIT WIGGINS?
Timberwolves forward and national team have complicated history, uncertain future
It has not been pleasant, the relationship between Andrew Wiggins, his family, and Canada Basketball.
That may be something of an understatement, considering what’s gone on between Canada’s most accomplished active basketball player and the governing body of the sport in this country.
Wiggins said Wednesday he wants to play for Canada. He said it with a straight face.
He didn’t say when he would play. He didn’t say where. He didn’t seem to know under what circumstances.
He said he’s going to try. That’s what he says. Believe that if you want.
“I’m going to try and play but we’ll see what happens,” said Wiggins, in Toronto with the Minnesota Timberwolves for a game against the Raptors at Scotiabank Arena, a 112-105 Raps win he sat out with an injury.
When Canada Basketball first reached out to Wiggins to play national team ball years ago, the family reached back to Canada Basketball in return. It wasn’t a warm and fuzzy beginning.
The back and forth went something like this: If you want Andrew to play, it’s going to cost you money. And if you want Andrew, you’re going to want his brothers, too.
This wasn’t your typical tryout invitation and recruiting session. This was part negotiation, part stickup, or so the story goes.
And Canada Basketball did what it believed was necessary at the time. It apparently paid decent money for Wiggins to play for Team Canada. No one will tell you that it was pretty good money, but an organization without a lot of cash had to come up with some.
Apparently, Canada Basketball came through with what it felt it had to pay. Wiggins showed up to play in the pre- Olympic qualifying tournament in Mexico a year before the Rio Olympics. Wiggins didn’t play particularly well at the tournament, didn’t fit in all that well, and wasn’t thrilled with life in Mexico. And when Canada played the final game of the tournament — with a win needed against Venezuela to advance — Wiggins was a non-factor. Team Canada lost in Mexico. Wiggins didn’t make any friends around the team. And that was the last time he played for the country.
Who knows when the next time will be?
And that’s the rub for Canada Basketball in trying to put its best team on the floor in order to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Say what you want about Wiggins, who has yet to become the star many believed he would be in the NBA: He remains Canada’s best player.
He will likely be that until R.J. Barrett, likely the first pick in the 2019 NBA draft and son of former national team member Rowan Barrett, emerges. Head coach Jay Triano wants Wiggins on the team, but at least two questions, maybe more, remain. Does he want to play?
And do his fellow Canadian basketball players want him to play?
This isn’t like hockey. The basketball culture is different. Hockey players grow up thinking team first, national team from the time they are kids, individual stuff second. Basketball players grow up in a star-first environment, where individuality is encouraged.
If Triano is able to put his best lineup on the floor for the world championships this summer in China — eight countries will qualify for the Olympics — that would probably mean Cory Joseph at point guard, Jamal Murray at shooting guard, Wiggins at small forward, and some combination of Dwight Powell, Kelly Olynyk or Tristan Thompson at the centre and power forward spots. All of them are NBA players of some note.
Then there’s Barrett. Then there’s Clippers rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is already exciting people. Then there’s Dillon Brooks. Then there’s Trey Lyles. Then there’s Khem Birch. Then there’s Nik Stauskas, if you need a three-point shooter. There is that much depth and talent.
And then there’s the kids on the way — Andrew Nembhard at Florida, Lindell Wigginton at Iowa State, Oshae Brissett at Syracuse, Simisola Shittu at Vanderbilt — all in the national team mix.
Will Canada ever put its best team on the court? And is that even possible, with or without Wiggins?
“I don’t know,” said national team coach Jay Triano. “There’s always going to be guys in a contract year or getting married or with family issues or with an injury, or teams not letting them play.”
In other words, no chance. “If I didn’t have a contract, I wouldn’t play,” said Triano. “And we can’t afford insurance for the players, so if you were a player why would you put yourself in that situation?”
There is still time for Andrew Wiggins and Basketball Canada to make up and play nice. But those closest to the scene wonder if that will ever be possible after all that’s already gone wrong.
Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins, right, says he wants to play for Team Canada again someday.