Wiggins: playing in ACC is like any other arena

Andrew Wiggins has become accustomed to playing in the Air Canada Centre, with its Maple Leaf on the ceiling and "We the North" banners on the walls. (Mark Blinch/ THE CANADIAN PRESS)

TORONTO — Andrew Wiggins has become accustomed to playing in the Air Canada Centre, with its Maple Leaf on the ceiling and "We the North" banners on the walls.

"The only thing different about playing in this arena is I have my friends and family here," said Wiggins, who grew up north of Toronto in Vaughan, Ont.

"Before the game, when I’m preparing for it, it does (mean a bit more than other arenas) but when I step on the court, it’s like every other game really."

The reigning NBA rookie of the year was making his third trip to the ACC on Wednesday as his Minnesota Timberwolves were set to play the Toronto Raptors.

Wiggins turned 21 on Tuesday, and celebrated his birthday in Toronto with family and friends.

The six-foot-eight forward accumulated 2,548 points prior to his birthday, becoming one of just 12 players in NBA history to reach the 2,000-point mark before turning 21.

The Canadian star draws a large crowd of media to the ACC and Minnesota’s Wednesday morning shootaround was no different.

He was asked about how he got involved in refurbishing the Dufferin Clark Community Centre in Vaughan, a project shared by Wiggins and Adidas. The renovated gym, where Wiggins famously shattered a backboard when he was in Grade 9, was unveiled during the NBA all-star festivities.

"I grew up over there," Wiggins said. "Just something I wanted to do, give back."

He was asked about Kitchener, Ont., native Jamal Murray, who’s lighting it up in his rookie season at Kentucky. Murray’s 23 points Tuesday night marked his seventh straight 20-point game and 13th on the season.

"I think he’s doing great right now in college, he’s going to help Canada a lot, he’s the next up and coming one," Wiggins said.

He was asked, of all the young talented athletes from the Toronto area — sprinter Andre De Grasse, soccer player Kadeisha Buchanan, tennis star Milos Raonic or hockey player Connor McDavid — who was his favourite?

"I think Connor McDavid," Wiggins said. "I’m always hearing about him, I watch highlights of him, and he’s younger than me doing great things."

Former Raptors coach Sam Mitchell, now Minnesota’s head coach, has seen great things from his young star this season, and said the Canadian has shown a lot of growth in his sophomore season as a pro.

"He understands how tough this league is, he understands that when you’re a former No. 1 pick and you’re rookie of the year that guys are going to go after you, that you’ve got to get yourself mentally and physically ready to play," Mitchell said. "I think Andrew’s done a great job, he’s coming in early, he’s getting his work done.

"He’s in the weight room, he’s working on his game so I don’t think anything has changed. It’s just learning the league and getting a little bit more comfortable."

Wednesday’s game was Minnesota’s only regular-season visit to Toronto.

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