SLAM: Everyone knows you’re from Canada, but where exactly?
Nik Stauskas: I grew up in Mississauga, which is a suburb of Toronto.
SLAM: And in terms of sports, is that a hockey town?
NS: Definitely. Everywhere around Toronto is hockey first, but my crew, my friends, we all enjoyed basketball. I never really played hockey growing up. I didn’t really start watching basketball until 2001—that’s when Vince Carter really started coming up. Just having him in town and having the team there, it gave kids a team to watch and guys to look up to.
SLAM: How often did you get out to the arena to watch them play?
NS: I’d go to a couple every year, but I’d watch them all on TV.
SLAM: Right. And then were you in your backyard pretending to be VC?
NS: [Laughs] Me and my brother would lower the rim to 6-feet, and we would try to do the things he was doing. I definitely remember those days.
SLAM: That 2001 team went to the Eastern Conference finals.
NS: When they lost to the Sixers [in the ECF] that was right before I really got into basketball.
SLAM: Where were you and your friends playing when you were young?
NS: There were two places for me. At school, whether at recess or after class, we’d always play on the five or six baskets outside school. And then, if not there, I had a court in my backyard. I would invite like eight, nine friends over and we’d play three-on-three tournaments in my backyard.
SLAM: Were you always the best in your age group?
NS: I think from the time I was 10 I was one of the better players. But there was a lot of talent around me, a lot of kids from the area who were better than me growing up but didn’t make it.
SLAM: What do you think the difference was between them and you?
NS: My work ethic and having a court in my backyard. I’d play at school, then come home and play with my brother or dad.
SLAM: A lot of kids were going to the hockey rink after school, and you’d go hit your backyard, right?
NS: Probably. I know a lot of kids in my school definitely played hockey growing up. All my set of friends did, though, was play basketball.
SLAM: Was it a little weird to see kids playing basketball back then?
NS: Nah, you weren’t looked at as being weird. But at that time—like 2005—it was different than it is right now. It’s bigger in school now.
SLAM: You said you played with your brother and dad. You come from a hoops family?
NS: My mom really had no affiliation with basketball before, but my dad played in high school and then stopped in college. I think once me and my brother picked it up, they were supportive, and they would take us to games and practices. My dad, especially, got really into it. He’d always be in the backyard helping me with my handling and my shooting.
SLAM: I know you said you’re here because of hard work, but was your jumper always naturally smooth?
NS: From the very start, I could always shoot better than everyone else. Until I was 13 or 14, I had a really awkward shot but it would still go in. Once I got to high school, I changed my form and started shooting with one hand.
SLAM: You played three years of high school in America—what was that like?
NS: It was about getting better and about exposure. There was a lot of talent in Toronto, but they weren’t getting looked at by DI schools. That was my biggest fear growing up: That I’d be good enough and never get seen.
SLAM: So when did you know you were as good as your American high school teammates, like Russ Smith?
NS: Right away. I wasn’t getting minutes in games, but as soon as I got there I’d go at them in scrimmages. I’d be hitting shots and going to the rim, everything.