'Butterflies in my stomach going crazy right about now!" Nik Stauskas tweeted from New York at 11:20 a.m. on June 26. Draft day is one of the biggest moments in an NBA player's life, but despite his 54-character tweet, the 20-year-old top prospect from Mississauga showed no shortage of confidence when he arrived at Barclays Center. The 6-foot-6 guard who left the University of Michigan after two years to turn pro was full of swagger, wearing a blue windowpane-pattern suit, pink tie and matching pink pocket square.
Stauskas was the eighth pick. Going that high in the draft was a clear sign of Stauskas's value. Indeed, although terms of the contract he signed with the Sacramento Kings were not disclosed, Stauskas stands to make at least $7-million (U.S.) over the next three years, according to the NBA rookie scale.
Not a bad way to begin your professional career – but then again Stauskas has been working toward this his entire life. He was born one week after the NBA announced the Toronto Raptors would be the league's newest franchise. His father, a computer consultant and basketball fanatic happy to have a pro team to call his own, bought Nik the same red Chuck Taylors he used to play in. He also offered to coach his high school team, but couldn't because the role had to go to a teacher.
When Nik and his brother Pete were both in elementary school, their dad asked them what they'd rather have in the backyard: a basketball court, a putting green or a swimming pool. Most kids would be tempted by the pool. Nik and Pete chose the basketball court. Even winter snow couldn't stop them from playing on it.
When Nik was nine-years-old, he attended a Raptors open practice where he got to play one-on-one with Vince Carter, who, at the time, was the biggest superstar to play for Toronto. "Having that star player in your hometown, it kind of got me hooked to the game," Stauskas says.
His whole life has been a path to turning pro: attending a preparatory school in Massachusetts to gain exposure south of the border, going to the Final Four in the NCAA tournament his first year at Michigan, spending hours and hours watching game footage every day to perfect his three-point shooting.
His complete dedication to the game was a source of baffling amusement to his coaches and teammates. "He doesn't know anything about hockey, he doesn't know anything about football," his coach told a reporter for ESPN last year. "The other day we had him try to throw a baseball pass as a press breaker. And he had never thrown a baseball."
But two months into his first NBA season, Stauskas has realized he's now playing a different game. "In college you're playing guys your own age who are 18 to 22. In the NBA, these are grown men. These are guys who are 30, 31 years old who have been playing in the league for 10 years," Stauskas says.
Now, more than ever, he says, he needs to focus. You get a taste of the big time playing for a school like Michigan, but when the game is over, you still have to go back to class, study, work on papers. All of that is in the past. "Basketball has always been the thing that I love doing," he says. "And it's literally my job now."
After practice, he heads to the two-bedroom place he calls home in Sacramento. His parents haven't come for a visit yet, but they're planning to in January, when the team has a stretch of six home games in a row. He's got the spare bedroom all ready.
A week before the draft, as he was shuttling from one NBA team to another, Stauskas tweeted that he was bored during a flight to Orlando. He told his followers to fire questions at him.
What's his favourite shoe? Nike Air Huarache 2k4.
You got love for the Bay Area? "Never been but I heard only good things!"
What do you order from Taco Bell? The cheesy gordita crunch "with a baja blast LOL."
And then this one: What are you going to miss most about Michigan? "The fans, team and being a kid :)"
Like leaving school and starting your first full-time job suddenly makes you a grown-up.
Stauskas turned 21 in October, and he is now a millionaire. But he's in many ways still just a kid, something diehard sports fans often forget as they debate their favourite players. Just look at those LOLs in his tweets, or the fact that in what little off time he has, Stauskas is finally learning how to drive.
"I think I'm actually a pretty good driver, but I guess we'll see when I take my driver test," he says.
Pro sports has no shortage of athletes who spend big on cars or bling or other indulgences. So far, Stauskas hasn't treated himself to any superstar extravagances.
"I go shopping more for clothes now, but nothing really over-the-top," he says. "My only big purchase this year is going to be a car – once I get my licence."