UpNext brings you the best up-and-coming Canadian basketball talent. In this week’s instalment, Michigan Wolverines’ sharp-shooter Nik Stauskas.
In the puck-obsessed country we live in, it’s quite normal to see a hockey net sitting in front of a house—even a rink in the backyard if a family is lucky enough to have the room. But a full-fledged basketball court? That’s a little less common.
For a five-year-old Nik Stauskas, growing up in Mississauga had nothing to do with hockey. Stauskas started his sporting career playing soccer, until a broken arm in his ‘rookie season’ ended any footballing aspirations before they really started.
By the age of 10, Nik had found his true love—basketball. So his father, Paul, decided to do what any dad would: He built his two sons a basketball court.
Okay, so not every father has the ability to give his children a half-court practice area in their own backyard—complete with proper dimensions, a regulation rim and a padded stanchion for those extra physical games. Fortunately for the Stauskas boys, Paul wasn’t every father.
In the years that followed, Nik’s basketball dreams saw him head off to two different American prep schools, while also logging court time with his AAU team, Grassroots Canada.
But no matter where his path took him, he always ended up back on that backyard court, practicing the same three-point form that he put on display last year as a freshman for the Michigan Wolverines during their run all the way to the Georgia Dome and the school’s first NCAA Championship Game in 20 years.
The Wolverines lost that title game to Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals, but for a first-year player like Stauskas, the experience of March Madness was invaluable.
Stauskas started the final 33 games of the season for John Beilein’s squad, wowing fans with his level-headed, without-a-conscience shooting.
Here’s an example: Stauskas was mired in a career-worst slump heading into Michigan’s Elite Eight showdown with the Florida Gators, having connected on just two of his last 16 shots from long range. But like every great shooter, he didn’t focus on the misses. Instead, he dropped a team-high 22 points, on a perfect 6-of-6 from behind the three-point line and found himself cutting down the nets for the South Region.
Stauskas’s standout game on the national stage came by necessity—future NBAers Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke were a combined 8-of-29 from the field against the Gators—but it turned out he was also giving the world a glimpse into the future of the Maize and Blue.
Heading into his sophomore season in Ann Arbor, many expected that becoming the focal point for opposing defences (with Hardaway and Burke in the Association) would result in a big drop-off for Stauskas.
They were wrong.
Eighteen games into his second year, Stauskas is shooting a career-best 49.5 percent from the field and leading the Wolverines in minutes (34.9), scoring (18.5) and assists (3.8) per game. He is still deadly from range (44 3P%) and while his free throw shooting percentage has dropped off this season, it likely has something to do with the fact that he’s attempting nearly three times as many free throws as he did last season.
Stauskas isn’t just a catch-and-shoot gunner, either. He possesses a surprisingly effective dribble-drive game. It’s basketball evolution for a deadly shooter to see more and more open lanes to the rim, but it’s a measure of that player’s drive when he alters his training regime to better help him finish after taking them. Growing eight inches in two years and packing on 16 lbs. of muscle this past offseason doesn’t hurt either.
Stauskas is no longer the skinny kid driving his neighbors mad in his backyard. He’s an adult and the leader of a Wolverines team that currently sits atop the Big Ten Conference and ranks 21st in the AP Top 25. And though he now suits up with the knowledge that he has to play well for Michigan to win, he seems unfazed by the added pressure.
Confidence has never been an issue.
Much of that can be attributed to the added offensive weapons in Stauskas’s tool belt. But equally important has been his ability to master the most important weapon of all. His mind.