The Wolverine

January 2013

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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S By John Borton ome wondered how Nik Stauskas' game might translate from high school to the college level. But once you've smoked Vince Carter as a sixthgrader, what's the worry? Stauskas, the shooting machine who clawed his way into Michigan's starting lineup a half-dozen games into his rookie year, still smiles at the memory. He knows the NBA All-Star was helping a young basketball enthusiast enjoy the time of his life … and it worked. The native of Mississauga, Ont., will never forget the open practice conducted by his hometown Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre. They threw open the doors free of charge to fans, and there wasn't any bigger basketball fan than the kid who would have arrived at midnight to get a good view. million shots in his 19 years on the planet. Whether the guess is as accurate as his present marksmanship, nobody knows. This much is certain — he didn't get where he is by shooting with a video game controller. And if he's left alone only as long as it takes a New York pickpocket to swipe a money clip, he'll steal a team's defensive dreams. Big Dreams For A Little Shooter The journey began in boredom, Stauskas staring up at an impossibly high rim on his home court in Canada. Born in Etobicoke, Ont., Stauskas settled with his parents — Paul, a computer programmer, and Ruta, the vice president of human resources for a pharmaceutical company — into the Toronto suburb of Mississauga by the time he was ready to "I can't do that now, with the kind of schedule we have. But it was a love for the game I had when I was really young that got me to the point where I was constantly practicing my dribbling and my shooting." Although his parents never pushed him into the sport, they proved more than on board with his growing obsession. "Every day, I'd go out and play," he recalled. "My dad really supported me in that. He'd come out with me all the time, rebound for me and help me out. My mom, too — they used to come to every one of my games and really support me. I owe a lot to them." In the end, as with most prodigies, the incentive bubbled up from within. That's certainly the case with Stauskas, who treated the 94-footlong hardwood like Mozart treated the 88-key stretch of ivory. Shooting Star Nik Stauskas Is Lighting It Up Early For Michigan As it turns out, Stauskas got a whole lot more. "I sat front row," he recalled. "I went super early to get good seats. They picked me to come on the court. I played a shooting game with Vince Carter … and I beat him. I was in sixth grade, and I came out and hit three or four straight threes. "He was kind of messing around. I think he might have let me win, but just being on the court with him, and with all the fans there, it was a real cool moment for me. It just furthered my love for the game." That love began before he could even hoist the ball to the net. Now, he often hits nothing but. His ridiculously improbable 11-game start to his rookie season featured him making 29 of 53 three-point attempts (54.7 percent) and 28 of 31 free throws (90.3 percent). Stauskas filling the basket appears as natural as a coronary care candidate waddling into the all-you-caneat buffet line to fill his plate. "He makes shots," assured fellow freshman Glenn Robinson III. "That's what he does." It wasn't always that way. Stauskas himself estimates he's put up a 34  the wolverine    January 2013 start school. His basketball education began on its own. "When I was about 5, I was bored and I was in my front yard by myself, just shooting," Stauskas reflected. "I was so mad, because I actually didn't have the strength to get the ball up to the net. I remember standing there for a half hour, just shooting. I couldn't hit the net at all. That was frustrating." And also temporary. Stauskas' uncle coached a Lithuanian club team, and introduced the 7-year-old Nikolas to the organized version of the sport. The child figured, why not? Before long, he answered all basketball questions in the affirmative. He loved watching Carter and the Raptors perform, and his passion for the sport just kept on growing. "There was a point when I was a kid, maybe fifth or sixth grade, it would be in the middle of the wintertime, and if I didn't go outside and play basketball four or five hours a day and just shoot, I would feel bad about myself," Stauskas acknowledged. "I'd feel like, 'Oh man, today was a lazy day.' "It was more the fact that I always just loved the game, more than anyone else," he said. "To this day, I'm literally obsessed with basketball. If I'm in my room with nothing to do, I'm probably on YouTube, just watching basketball highlights. It's what I love to do. "Ever since that fifth- or sixthgrade time, where I started going out all the time and shooting, I knew that I really, really loved it. I probably loved it a lot more than any other kid." Growing Up Fast He didn't love his time at South Kent (Conn.) School, after he moved from Canada to the United States to further pursue his basketball dream. At only 15 years of age, Stauskas faced adjustments above and beyond the first time away from home. He couldn't even play during the basketball season as a junior, due to a hip injury. Stauskas started out miserable, and it only got a little bit better that year. By the middle of December this season, Stauskas had already been named Big Ten Rookie of the Week twice. Photo by Lon Horwedel

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