There were nights after Chris Boucher had punched out from his job at a Montreal rotisserie restaurant that he would ride an overnight bus to sleep.
Dropping out of high school at the age of 16, Boucher floated from home to home while working as a part-time cook and dishwasher. Sometimes the bus was the best option.
Basketball? It wasn’t even in the picture.
Boucher will be back in Montreal on Wednesday with the Toronto Raptors in a remarkable full-circle moment. The road he’s travelled to get there reads like a Hallmark movie script.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been home, so obviously coming back as an NBA player feels good,” Boucher said Tuesday, before the team departed for the airport. “It’s truly a blessing to play in front of my family and friends, definitely going to enjoy the experience.”
The 25-year-old Boucher, who arrived in Montreal from St. Lucia with his mom when he was 5, squeezed in some pickup basketball during his time working at the chicken restaurant. He was offered a spot on a team for a tournament, and a couple of coaches in the crowd at the final – Igor Rwigema and Ibrahim Appiah – couldn’t help but notice the slender teen who was lighting it up with 44 points. They offered him a spot on their fledgling AAU team Alma Academy.
The years since included stops at Mexico Junior College, Northwest College in Wyoming and, finally, the University of Oregon, where his best night saw him score 23 points and grab 19 rebounds – one board shy of becoming the first 20-20 Duck in almost 40 years.
Boucher’s college career was cut short in the Pac-12 tournament semis when he tore his ACL. Unaware of the severity of his injury, he finished the game. He attended the NBA combine a few weeks later to do interviews, but went undrafted.
Now the 6-foot-10 Boucher is gunning for the Raptors’ open two-way roster spot, hoping to outshine Eric Moreland and Deng Adel before Nick Nurse names his regular-season roster next week. Two-way contracts allow players to play with both the Raptors and their G-League affiliate, Raptors 905. Boucher was on a two-way deal with Golden State last season.
On Wednesday at Montreal’s Bell Centre, Boucher will surely see a little bit of himself in the kids in the crowd. Once facing a bleak future, Boucher hopes to show the kids they can write their own stories.
“I feel like I can show a lot of people, a lot of kids, that it’s possible to make it,” Boucher said. “A lot of people have been following me ... so I think that’s the one good thing about this trip is that they’ll be able to see an NBA game and be able to see me, too.
“A lot of young kids want to make it, and seeing a guy that’s actually playing can give them hope and inspiration to make it.”
Boucher said he’ll have more than 100 friends and family members at the game.
The Raptors signed the forward after a solid showing with their Summer League squad. Veteran C.J. Miles said the 200-pound Boucher, with his condor wingspan that stretches nearly 7 foot 4, continues to surprise “people every day.”
“The first couple of days obviously I noticed he’s mobile for his size, he runs the floor, he blocks shots and then he starts making threes,” Miles said.
“I hope he dunks on JV one of these days,” he joked in the direction of centre Jonas Valanciunas. “He has a chip on his shoulder and he plays hard. That’s the biggest thing. He competes. You can see it in his face and in his demeanour when he turns the switch on. But he has been great.”
Boucher has only appeared in one of the Raptors’ three preseason games. He sat out Friday’s win over Melbourne United with back spasms.
Still, the Canadian believes he’s had a decent training camp with Toronto.
“It felt good,” he said. “I’ve been with them the whole summer, so that definitely helped me out. I was able to know the guys, the coaches, know the players and it was just easier to just follow what they were putting in ... and I still try to show what I’m capable of doing.”
Norm Powell, who suffered a contusion to his thigh on Friday, didn’t practise Tuesday.
The Raptors wrap up the preseason on Thursday in New Orleans. They open the regular season on Oct. 17 against the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers.