Everybody talks about your on-court poise. Where does that come from?
> Just experience, really.
> [Laughs.] I feel like I’ve been through almost every situation on the court. I have confidence in that and I have confidence in myself. Growing up, you’ve gotta believe you’re the best player, or else you’re not gonna be able to keep up.
Spoken like a guy who was the youngest of three brothers. Were they mean to you?
> Yeah, and that’s probably the main thing I’d credit for my success. I was always competing with them—it was not easy. You’re fighting for everything; fighting for attention, fighting to play. They would go to the YMCA, and they’d only let me play if they needed another player.
How many times did you show up at the Y and your brothers told you to get lost?
> All the time. They had two courts, and it would be the older guys playing on one. My brothers would be like, “We got 10. Tyler, go play on the other side.” Me and my friends would go play there. Then I realized one day, “Oh, they picked me first.”
It’s an exciting time in Canadian basketball. What’s it like for you to be a big part of that?
> It’s big. Growing up, I had a couple guys who I think opened the door, who had been to prep school and left Canada. And just making it to college, I think I’m part of the group that opened the door and made people realize that people can come from Canada and still make it to the NBA.
Who did you cheer for as a kid?
> I was by default a Raptors fan, being from Toronto. I was a big Jason Kidd fan, so I was also a Nets fan a little bit. Tracy McGrady was my favourite player growing up, so whatever team he was playing for I was always a fan of as well.
Do you get nervous before games?
> When I was younger, I would get nervous, just because you don’t know what to expect, you don’t know how much you’re gonna have to do. But going to Syracuse I really didn’t get nervous before games. I had people around me who were going to keep me up and even if I played bad I knew somebody was going to step up. That’s why I was so relaxed.
When you hit that buzzer beater against Pittsburgh, your reaction was a little hop. Others might have slid across the court or even lost their minds.
> [Laughs.] I was really excited that day—a lot of people were surprised I even showed any emotion. At the time we were undefeated [23-0], we were so scared of losing the game, and there was so much pressure. I think the whole season would have been different if we didn’t hit that shot.
When did you realize how big that shot was?
> Everybody was still in shock a little bit afterwards. We just sat down, coach had a talk. My phone was blowin’ up. I went to the locker room and they called me back onto the court. Doris Burke is someone everybody knows in the basketball world, and I did an interview with her. I just remember her giving me kudos for winning the game. That’s the moment I’ll remember forever.
What are you like off the court?
> I see myself as a regular person.
Every athlete says that, and it’s not true.
> My life is kinda boring. I chill with friends, go to the mall, go to the movies. You can’t really get caught up in everything. Especially at Syracuse, you get so much support, and everybody knows you around town. But I think everybody takes to you when you’re just a regular person; nobody likes you when you act like you’re somebody. I realized that as a little kid, watching NBA players. One time, I’m not gonna say the NBA guy’s name, he wouldn’t take a picture with us. I remember saying to myself, I’m never gonna be like that.
Do you enjoy the attention?
> At Syracuse they told me about the support we get. It’s awesome. You go to the mall, everybody knows you; you go to the restaurant, everybody knows you. It helps you stay focused. Everybody’s watching you and that’s how you have to live.
How do you keep from getting a big head?
> I guess just knowing I have so much more work to do. I was able to accomplish a lot at Syracuse and through high school, but I’m not where I want to be as far as my career yet. Maybe when I retire I’ll be able to be cocky, but I haven’t done anything that I want to do, and that’s play professionally.
Let’s talk about the draft. There’s a lot of uncertainty, which must be weird for you. You knew from an early age you wanted to go to Syracuse.
> Yeah, it’s really different. The only control you have is working out and playing the season, but as far as which team, you really don’t have control. That’s the fun part of it, but I just kinda wanna know where I’m going.
Are you excited?
> Yeah, I’m actually really excited. I’m trying to enjoy the process as much as possible but I’m excited to see where I’m gonna go and who I’m going to be playing with.
Have you been dreaming about stepping on that stage and putting on a jersey?
> As a kid, that’s all I did. The last couple months of the college season, it’s so tough. You turn on the TV and you see your name on the draft board. I told my family I don’t want to hear all the media stuff, so they helped me stay away from it as much as possible.
Do you have your suit and tie and earrings picked out for draft night?
> No, but I’m a little bit into fashion, so it’ll be interesting to see the kinds of things I could wear. I’ve been warned to go with something classic that I won’t be embarrassed about later on. I just wanna look good.
So no orange suit?
> I don’t think so. Maybe some orange in there to represent my Syracuse.
Who are your fashion inspirations?
> I don’t think I’m as extreme as [Russell] Westbrook. I just like dressin’ up, lookin’ good. I like to have a lot of sneakers and have people question, like, “Oh, I’ve never seen you in those before.”
How many pairs of shoes do you have?
> I have a little bit at home, a little bit at school. During the season I only wore Kevin Durant shoes and people started to recognize it. The one game I didn’t, that was our first loss, actually. Near the end of the season I started switching up his shoes a little bit just because people started to notice.
What will be your first big purchase after you sign an NBA contract? Maybe some animals, or a zoo?
> I haven’t really thought about it. Maybe some clothes.
Good, responsible answer. Has it sunk in that you’re going to be paid to play basketball?
> I don’t think any of it’s really sunk in yet. I talk to my brother Dylan and he’s always like, “Wow, you’re about to be in the NBA!” I’m just in the moment. But it’s a whole different world going from being a college boy and going into the business of the NBA.
What are you most looking forward to about this summer other than the draft?
> Just being able to wind down and relax a little bit. Going to college, I didn’t get a break after high school, and then going from this process into the draft. As far as basketball, I’m really excited about being able to play in summer league. I’ve watched it on NBA TV and I see how players, that’s their first NBA game time. I’m really excited about that.
Your lack of emotion gets played up a lot. What should people know about you that they don’t know already?
> I’m not as emotionless as I seem. A lot of people think I just don’t smile, but off the court I smile a lot, I have fun. When I’m on the court I’m so focused—I’m in the game. I think that’s why.
Maybe after you drain your first NBA three, you should do a huge fist-pump to show your personality.
> [Laughs.] I think that would piss everybody off.
This story originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.