DOES RED AND WHITE SUIT WIG­GINS?

Tim­ber­wolves for­ward and na­tional team have com­pli­cated his­tory, un­cer­tain fu­ture

Calgary Herald - - SPORTS - STEVE SIM­MONS ssim­[email protected]­media.com twit­ter.com/sim­mon­ssteve

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.

BEN MAR­GOT/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS/AP

Tim­ber­wolves for­ward An­drew Wig­gins, right, says he wants to play for Team Canada again some­day.

Da­mon Har­ri­son

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