HAMILTON — All eyes in the gym were on Andrew Wiggins.
Fellow Canadian Xavier Rathan-Mayes knew this was going to be the case. While the crowd came out for the 17-year-old phenom that is being hyped more than any single Canadian basketball player before him, teammate Rathan-Mayes, the one in the No. 11 jersey and Carolina Blue & White kicks, wore a smile as he dribbled through warm-up drills and waited to hear his name called during the introduction of the starting lineups.
Wiggins wasn’t the only kid who was happy to be home, happy to be in front of their family and friends and happy to be oh-so-close to the next level.
While he is the reason for the media circus that follows Huntington Prep everywhere they go –and it is indeed a circus, but an understandable one, considering the athletic gifts that Wiggins has been given — it is Rathan-Mayes who has already taken the first “next” step in his basketball career.
Committed to Florida State, the 18-year-old guard who is generously listed as 6’4” showed out in front of his family and friends on a mind-numbingly, cold Sunday afternoon in Hamilton, ON. Leading his team in scoring with 27 easy points, Rathan-Mayes looked smooth on the court and was extremely confident off of it.
“It’s special,” he said of the extra eyes that have been on his team all season long thanks to stellar talents of his highly-touted teammate.
Dealing with the added attention and scrutiny that comes with playing alongside Wiggins has given Rathan-Mayes an edge that many Canadian players need to develop before succeeding at the NCAA level. Armed with the knowledge and belief that his game is equal — and superior, in some cases — to the American opponents he faces each day, Rathan-Mayes sounds older than his years when fielding media questions following Huntington Prep’s 81-52 victory over the United Leadership Academy.
“The past few years, American people haven’t really respected our game and I think these last two AAU seasons we’ve definitely made a statement being ranked number two two years ago and all through last year being ranked number one,” Rathan-Mayes said. “I think we’re gaining everyone’s attention and respect. Canada Basketball is no joke.”
Wiggins is the player that receives the bulk of media attention when talking about the future of Canadian basketball. He has become the face of a generation that will take the sport to a place this country has yet to see. Rathan-Mayes is part of that class, a class that will do things and serve as an inspiration to children growing up who fall in love with basketball courts intend of ice rinks and hockey pucks.
“This is what we’ve been training for our whole lives,” Rathan-Mayes said to questions of the pressure and weight that comes along with being a part of Canada’s future. “To be playing in that type of environment day in and day out against the best in the world.”
The decision to choose the Seminoles was an easy one for the sharpshooting combo guard. Following in his father’s footsteps, he will go to Tallahassee and continue seeking out his basketball dream, confident that he has shown enough over the past season to prove that he is capable of playing the point guard position. Admitting that, yes, he would love for Wiggins to join him at Florida State, Rathan-Mayes talked about the special bond the two players have, growing up near each other, their fathers playing together in college and again in the Association, and now the two experiencing the hype together at Huntington Prep.
Wearing a black hoodie with “Keep calm and get buckets” printed on the front, Rathan-Mayes calmly and expertly answered question after question about his teammate. It was obvious that he had been in this exact situation before and understood that he would be in it again and again until the pair leave high school behind to take on the next step.
Defending Wiggins against critics who question his competitiveness, he explained that, “I feel that they take it the wrong way, his humbleness, sometimes. When the lights are on he steps up to the challenge. We don’t have to worry about that.”
With a smile he called Wiggins’ talent “mind-boggling.”
As for how playing alongside the No. 1-ranked player in the country has helped his game, he said it takes pressure off of him. Watching him knock down shot after shot, it’s easy to see what he’s talking about. What he doesn’t mention is how the spotlight on Wiggins has taught him how to deal with the heightened profile that comes along with sharing the court with the player being spoken about in the same breath in high school as a Kevin Durant or Tracy McGrady or LeBron James.
The experiences of this season have given Rathan-Mayes a crash course in media relations. He’s had a front row seat to observe how the hype machine functions and he is fully aware of both the positives and negatives that come from increased exposure. Despite all of the extra expectations, Rathan-Mayes is still just an 18-year-old basketball player playing the game he loves with his best friend by his side. That friend just happens to be the one with all eyes on him.
“I love being able to play against the best talent…” Rathan-Mayes said. With a youthful smile, he continued, “It’s fun.”
Take away all of the excess and the picture remains the same. Two friends working toward their basketball dream.