Canada giveth. Canada taketh away.
That might be the scenario that plays out for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at Thursday night’s NBA Draft.
Of course, this Canadian connection would include an all-important slice of Kentucky basketball.
“It prepared me a lot,” Gilgeous-Alexander said Wednesday of how UK impacted his NBA aspirations. “From Day One, Coach (John) Calipari has prepared us to be pros. That’s one of his main things. That’s what he does better than any coach in the country.”
Gilgeous-Alexander comes into the NBA Draft with the aura of a player who has been overlooked, if not underappreciated. He was one of the least heralded UK freshmen going into last season. He became Mr. Indispensable, never more so than as the Most Valuable Player in Kentucky’s run to the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship.
During a pre-draft session with reporters in New York, Gilgeous-Alexander was asked why was he overlooked?
“I guess coming from Canada early on,” he said. “We don’t get as much exposure as guys do over here.”
Increasingly, players from Canada are changing the perception of basketball in their country. Another former UK player, Jamal Murray, has played a part in this transformation.
“It’s an honor to be thought of like that,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Being from Canada and having a lot of kids look up to you, it doesn’t happen as often as it does for American kids. I just want to be the best example for those kids both on and off the court.”
Recent speculation has Gilgeous-Alexander possibly heading back to Canada to begin his NBA career. The Toronto Raptors are said to be considering trading up to take Gilgeous-Alexander.
“I heard it,” the former UK player said. “A couple of guys mentioned it to me. That would be cool. Playing in Toronto would be fun. It’s my hometown.”
But, he added, playing for any NBA team would be fun.
During the pre-draft process, teams have told Gilgeous-Alexander to improve his strength and his shooting off the dribble. He said he believed he could bring playmaking, defense and leadership to an NBA team.
The next step comes in the NBA Draft.
“Obviously, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing and a dream come true ...,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “A lot of people in the world don’t get to experience it. And I’m just trying to soak it all up and be appreciative.”