NEW YORK — Andrew Wiggins walked proudly across the stage to take his spot as the NBA’s No. 1 overall draft pick, the culmination of a path he’s been pointed down for years.
The Cleveland Cavaliers selected the 19-year-old sensation from Vaughan, Ont., making Wiggins the second consecutive Canadian they’ve taken with the top pick. The Cavs selected Anthony Bennett — Wiggins’ longtime teammate growing up — in the No. 1 spot last year.
Wiggins said the ripple effect in Canada will be “huge,” and he’s proud of that fact.
“It opens doors for all the youth in Canada, it gives them hope,” Wiggins said.
“Coming up when I was in Canada, I wasn’t ranked, I wasn’t known. I didn’t really have any offers or anything like that. I just kept my head straight, kept working on my game, and look where I am today.
“I just think it gives everyone in Canada hope that they can do the same thing and accomplish whatever I do. Because it’s possible if they work hard.”
Wiggins was the star on an historic night for Canadian basketball. Nik Stauskas of Mississauga, Ont., went eighth to the Sacramento Kings, while Tyler Ennis of Brampton, Ont., was selected 18th by the Phoenix Suns.
Wiggins has been intensely focused on the top spot, chalking it up to his competitive nature. So confident was he on Thursday night at Barclays Center, he chose a killer suit jacket that screamed No. 1 — a black Waraire Boswell jacket with a white floral print.
“We just wanted to do something different, really stand out, try to win it on both ends, the stylish points and to come No. 1,” Wiggins said of the suit that was specially designed for him.
In a draft that has been maybe the mostly highly anticipated in a decade, Wiggins has long been touted as the top pick. The six-foot-eight guard has been called possibly the biggest star since LeBron James. He’s been in the spotlight for years — a YouTube video of him dunking with ease as a 13-year-old has almost five million views.
“A thousand thoughts are going through my head right now,” Wiggins said. “It’s a dream come true. …
“Going to high school and college, the opportunity and possibility of going No. 1 came into talk. And now I accomplished that, so it’s just a crazy feeling right now. I don’t even know how I feel. It doesn’t even feel real right now.”
When his name was called, Wiggins slipped on a maroon Cleveland hat, hugged his dad Mitchell and mom Marita, and then strode on stage to shake hands with commissioner Adam Silver, who was calling the first round for the first time since replacing David Stern.
Wiggins makes it three Canadians playing in Cleveland — the Cavs took forward Tristan Thompson of Brampton, Ont., fourth overall in the 2011.
“I played with Tristan for a summer of AAU, and I played with Anthony for a while on the AAU circuit and on the national level too, so I’m just excited,” Wiggins said. “The chemistry is already there with those guys because I played with them already. I think big things are to come.”
The six-foot-eight guard is genetically-gifted — he’s the son of an NBA player and Olympic sprinter.
He called Thursday night a “huge moment” for his family, including his brothers Nick, who played college basketball at Wichita State, and Mitchell Jr., who plays at Southeastern University.
“Especially because my parents were pro athletes before, now they can kind of live the dream again through me, and just watch their youngest son do something special with his life, and play at the highest level of basketball,” Wiggins said. “We cherish moments like this. It’s great, great for us.”
The Cavaliers are hoping to bring LeBron James back to Cleveland, and if that happened, a new teammate would be glad to welcome him.
“I want to win,” Wiggins said. “If he wants to win, we’d be good together.”
Milwaukee selected Duke forward Jabari Parker with the No. 2 pick, while Wiggins’ Kansas teammate Joel Embiid — a big question mark going into the draft after he underwent surgery for a stress fracture in his foot — went third to Philadelphia.
“He worked so hard,” Wiggins said. “He didn’t let nothing get to him. He always stayed motivated. So I’m just proud. It’s a proud moment for Kansas.”
Arizona forward Aaron Gordon went fourth to Orlando, followed by Australian guard Dante Exum to Utah.
The Toronto Raptors selected Bruno Caboclo with their No. 20 pick.
The Kings, meanwhile, looked to fill their shooting void by taking perhaps the best marksman available in the draft in Stauskas, a Michigan product who’s a bit of a YouTube sensation himself — his videos of throwing up three-pointers have hundreds of thousands of views.
“This is a huge honour for me,” Stauskas said. “This is something I’ve been working towards since I was seven years old. The face that I’m sitting here in front of all you guys now is just. . . I can’t put this into words.”
The six-foot-six Stauskas celebrated with an orchestrated handshake with his dad Paul — the two slapped hands and then threw up three-point matching goggles, Stauskas’s trademark gesture whenever he drained a three at Michigan.
“A planned handshake that we thought of last night,” Stauskas said. “I always just throw up the three goggles. So I thought it was only appropriate I did it here. . . It was a little pressure, but he got it right. So I’m happy.”
The most Canadians drafted in a single draft year is three — it happened in 1983 (Leo Rautins, Stewart Granger, and Ron Crevier) and again in 2012 (Andrew Nicholson, Kris Joseph, Robert Sacre).
“I think this is a big year,” said Ennis, a 19-year-old Syracuse point guard that the Raptors had been high on. “We had the No. 1 pick, we had Nik go in the lottery, myself. . . At the end of the night, Canada has something to be proud of.”
The new NBA Canadians join six other players from north of the border in the league — Bennett, Thompson, Kelly Olynyk, Nicholson, Cory Joseph and Joel Anthony.