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March 21, 2013 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2013-03-21

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Thursday, March 21, 2013 - SA

n the rear of a Mississauga
Ont. home, there's no fro-
zen pond for a young Cana-
dian 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 sur-
rounded 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' play-
ground.
Basketball has always been a
large part of the Michigan fresh-
man 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 hap-
pened 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 basket-
ball as his sport of choice
took a matter of moments.
Nik joined Ausra Sports Club
in Toronto, a Lithuanian basket-
ball team coached by his uncle,
Vic Simkus, when he was 7
years old. Joining a bunch of his
friends that he knew from Lithu-
anian 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 trav-
eled across the United States to
play against . other Lithuanian
club teams, and Nik loved play-
ing 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 Wash-
ington Wizards that night.
Sitting front row at open prac-
tice, 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 child-
hood idols put him over the top
and fell in love," Paul said. "From
that point on, he literally didn't
go anywhere without a basket-
ball."
Since he was so tall in ele-
mentary 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 elemen-
tary-school boys weren't big or
strong enough to shoot the ball
with one hand, but Nik contin-
ued 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 out-
side 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, Grass-
roots Canada coached by Ro
Russell and Anthony Otto, they
immediately noticed Nik's drive
and had him compete in intra-
squad games against some of the
older players.
Nik would face guys like
Tristan Thompson, a former
Texas center now with the
Cleveland Cavaliers, and Myck
Kabongo, a sophomore guard for
the Longhorns, in practice.
Though he was challenged,
Anthony could see how badly
Nik wanted to improve.
"We sat down with Nik and
told him, 'Obviously, you're not
blessed with the genetics some
of these other guys have, but that
means you need to work harder
in other areas, make up for the
deficiencies.' " Anthony said.
"There are many ways to play
this game (and) he took to that
philosophy, and it worked really
well for him."
Nik was tall at the time - he
eventually grew to 6-foot-6 -
but playing against bigger, stron-
ger players had always given
him trouble. So he learned bet-
ter ways to drive to the lane and
started to perfect his outside
shot.
Whether it was staying after
practice, getting individual
attention from Ro or Anthony
during practice, or the hours
spent in his backyard taking shot
after shot, Nik wouldn't stop
working. Ro called him a "gym
horse."
"A gym rat is too small for
him," he said "You always have
to tell him to leave the gym
because they have to turn the
lights off. So fine, he'll go home
and go outside and be out there
for hours upon hours."
That extra work paid off. In
the Adidas Super 64 AAU Tour-
nament in Las Vegas during Nik's
junior year, the team was down
by 10 points in pool play. Facing
a team that knew how to defend
Nik - they were faceguard-

ing and putting more physical
defenders on him - Ro called his
star over during a timeout.
He told Nik that he had to
make the plays and take over the
offense if they wanted to win the
game.
"You're our guy," Ro said.
"You have to come through for
us this game."
And, like always, Nik came
through.
"The biggest thing was you
could push Nik," Ro said. "You
could yell at him, get in his face,
push him to the highest level,
and he's not going to lose his
confidence or be disrespectful
and talk back. His coachabil-
ity was the biggest thing - you
could always coach Nik and tell
him what needs to be done. 'Yes
coach, I got you,' he said. That
was his favorite line. And he
would get you."
Even though his coaches
thrust the playmaking responsi-
bilities on Nik, nerves or lack of
confidence weren't ever issues
for him. "It's just hoops," Nik
would say:"It's just basketball."

and then we'd instill it in himnso
he'd believe it in himself more."
The confidence started to
appear in middle school. Nik
and the Monarchs were playing
for the Ontario Basketball Asso-
ciation Championship, down two
points with seconds left. The
coaches drew up an inbounds
play and the ball would go Nik -
he would hit a 3-pointer, and the
game would be over.
It worked, and the Monarchs
won.
"For me, it's not just, 'OK,
he hit the shot,' " Paul said. "It
proved to me at that point he
wasn't scared of being in the
limelight, taking the important
shot and he wasn't going to fold
under pressure. I knew he had
the confidence in his shot, and
from th a oint on. he nlaed

aggressively with confidence
and I never saw fear in his eyes
again."
And it's never disappeared.
ik had no idea what he
was getting into when
he went to St. Mark's
Preparatory School in Southbor-
ough, Mass.
After spending a terrible year
in 2010 at South Kent School
(Conn.), where Nik was sidelined
with an injury and was benched
when he recovered, Nik and his
dad contacted David Lubick, the
basketball coach at St. Mark's,
whom they had met at an AAU
tournament the year before.
Dave noticed Nik's talent and
immediately wanted him to play
at St. Mark's, but having already

A fter years of being chai- -"
lenged by older, tougher m - - . a
players and putting
countless hours into working on Ifiterested ease cal or emai
his shot, Nik gained swag. Psychstudy med.umich.edu
"He learned he could go at
whoever, it didn't really matter,"
Anthony said. "That really devel-
oped in his junior year of the
AAU circuit, where he was going
at a lot of tough guys and having
tremendous results."
Ro and Anthony kept feeding 2 1 6 9 5
Nik positive reinforcement, and
they could see it reflected in his 8 1 5 3 2
shot. Nik became the best shoot-
er on the team and a natural 5
leader on offense. By the end of
his junior year, Nik wasn't only
the best shooter on the team, 7 8
he wasable to drive in the lane,
dunk and handle the physicality 8 9 5 3 1
of opposing teams' defenders.
That confidence only
increased his senior year. Nik 3
was the only returning player
from the previous year's U-17 7
team, so Ro and Anthony knew
Nik would be the natural leader 7v8 4 9
of the team's offense.
"We built the team around
him at the time," Anthony said. 5 1 2 4 6
"And we'd push him, we would
tell him, 'Nik, this is your shot S
to take, these are your decisions
to make.' We would see it in him

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