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HOLDING COURT: Nik Stauskas’ growth into a sharpshooter

Adam Glanzman/Daily
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By Colleen Thomas, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 20, 2013

In the rear of a Mississauga, Ont. home, there’s no frozen pond for a young Canadian athlete to skate around, nor a pool for kids to enjoy in the summertime. Instead, a green and red, half-length basketball court sits in the yard waiting for someone to pick up a basketball and play.

Lined by a fence and surrounded with trees, the court was built in lieu of a swimming pool or a putting green. The two boys at that house just loved to play hoops — it was an easy choice.

It’s an unfamiliar sight for a household in a nation where hockey dominates youth sports, but at this house, in place of a hockey stick or helmet, there are basketballs and a backyard hoop. Welcome to Nik Stauskas’ playground.

Basketball has always been a large part of the Michigan freshman guard’s life — his brother, Peter, and his father, Paul, both played hoops. Both had immense influence on his life. But then there’s the backyard court where Nik would spend hours a day working on his game.

He’d go out there to shoot or play some one-on-one and relentlessly practice shooting drills there on Christmas and Thanksgiving.

It’s on that court where Nik became one of the best shooters in Canada.

None of that would’ve happened if he didn’t have that backyard hoop. So when most Canadian boys were tying their skates, Nik was spending his time perfecting his shot — a shot, and a game, that took over his life.

***

For Nik, choosing basketball as his sport of choice took a matter of moments.

Nik joined Ausra Sports Club in Toronto, a Lithuanian basketball team coached by his uncle, Vic Simkus, when he was 7 years old. Joining a bunch of his friends that he knew from Lithuanian Saturday school, Nik was introduced to his first taste of organized basketball.

Paul had played in the same league when he was younger, so Nik was bound to join at some point. And it helped that Nik was tall for his age.

So as a part of his first team, Nik and Ausra Sports Club traveled across the United States to play against other Lithuanian club teams, and Nik loved playing games with his friends from school.

Then Nik began to take to the court on a regular basis. In 2002, the summer before fourth grade, Nik started working on his shot. Every day, he’d go outside for three or four hours to shoot and dribble by himself. Nobody forced him to practice — Nik just played for the love of the game.

And Halloween 2003 sold him on his newfound passion. Nik, in fifth grade at the time, went to a Toronto Raptors game at the Air Canada Centre. The Raptors were holding an open practice for fans before playing the Washington Wizards that night.

Sitting front row at open practice, Nik was approached by a team official and asked if he’d want to shoot around with Vince Carter, and of course, the elated 10 year old agreed. Nik went on to sink a 3-pointer and a couple of free throws against one of his favorite players, and after that, he knew he wanted to play in the NBA.

“The crowd cheering and him playing with one of his childhood idols put him over the top and fell in love,” Paul said. “From that point on, he literally didn’t go anywhere without a basketball.”

***

Since he was so tall in elementary school, Nik didn’t really have to work on the aesthetics of his shot. If the ball went in, his coaches were happy. So Nik just chucked the ball up.

“Back then, I had a really weird and awkward form,” Nik said. “It was a really ugly shot but it would go in. Up until high school, I was shooting with two hands. It worked, but it was a really weird-looking shot.”

Paul understood that elementary-school boys weren’t big or strong enough to shoot the ball with one hand, but Nik continued this form into middle school. Even as he got stronger, Nik was still shooting with two hands at age 13.

Both Paul and Nik knew that if Nik was going to continue on in the basketball world, the weird-looking shot had to go.

So when Nik would go outside to work on his shot, Paul followed. While Nik started to work on shooting with one hand, Paul gave pointers. While Nik did shooting drills, Paul was his rebounder. While Nik worked on his range, Paul was there to catch his airballs.

Even as early as fifth grade, Nik impressed coaches. When Nik joined an AAU squad, Grassroots Canada coached by Ro Russell and Anthony Otto, they immediately noticed Nik’s drive and had him compete in intrasquad games against some of the older players.


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