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Canadian Joel Anthony was just another unheralded and undrafted player when he made the rounds of NBA gyms this past summer, hoping that perhaps his work ethic and eye-popping athleticism would earn him a second look.

He turned more than a few heads - none more than Miami Heat president and coach Pat Riley.

Fast forward to Thursday night's Heat season-opener against the visiting Detroit Pistons. Anthony was scheduled to be in the lineup, beating long odds to earn a spot on Riley's roster.

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"It's a bit unreal, when I think about it," Anthony said in a phone interview from Miami. "I catch myself just smiling a lot for no reason. I'll just be standing around and then I'll think, 'Wow, I can't believe I'm actually here right now."'

Anthony didn't believe it until he walked into the locker-room Monday, the deadline day for teams to make their final cuts and declare their 15-player rosters.

"I walked in and saw my name on the locker. That's pretty much how I found out," Anthony said.

The six-foot-nine, 260-pound forward from Montreal, whose first name is pronounced JOH-elle, becomes the fourth Canadian playing in the NBA this season, joining Victoria's Steve Nash (Phoenix), Jamaal Magloire of Toronto (New Jersey) and Montreal's Samuel Dalembert (Philadelphia).

The 25-year-old took an unlikely route to get where he is.

Anthony arrived in Miami as a fifth-string centre. He rarely started in college at UNLV, and a stress fracture in his leg kept him from playing for Canada at the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament in Las Vegas.

Still, there was that promise of untapped potential.

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Anthony earned Mountain West Conference defensive player of the year in his senior season, after recording 109 blocks off the bench for the Runnin' Rebels, including a 13-block performance against TCU on Feb. 7. He also had 150 rebounds and shot 60 per cent from the floor.

"He's just a freakish athlete," said Canadian men's team coach Leo Rautins. "His arms go down to his knees, he jumps out of the gym, he just stands there and. . . boing! He explodes.

"I talk to GMs all the time, and the one word you heard about Joel, everyone was saying they were 'intrigued' by him because of that freakish athleticism. Everybody he had a workout with liked him."

Anthony was a late bloomer, said Rautins, playing just one year of high school basketball at Montreal's Dawson Prep. His rate of development was so swift, his UNLV coach Lon Kruger opted to sit him a season so he would be that much better in his final year.

Kruger has said when it comes to work ethic, Anthony is the benchmark by which he judges all his players.

Hard work has taken him far in Miami. Anthony said since arriving at camp, he simply kept plugging away. He was also fortunate to have a few veterans take him under their wing.

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"Alonzo Mourning was one of the guys who helped me a lot. . . a lot of the big guys like Shaquille (O'Neal) have talked to me, helped me out with things," Anthony said. "The veteran guys always make sure they try to help the younger guys, because obviously there's so much to this game that we don't know."

Rautins sees a bright future for the Canadian big man.

Anthony played for Canada in three exhibition tournaments in 2006 in Italy, Germany and Slovenia. Rautins wishes he'd had him at the FIBA Americas tournament in Las Vegas, but knows the young forward could be a huge help to the Canadian program down the road.

"He's just got a great presence," Rautins said. "That's one thing Riley fell in love with, he really understands not just blocking shots, but positioning defensively, how to handle pick and rolls. . . a very good defensive understanding. And he's just a worker, this guy works his tail off."

Anthony will earn just under US$500,000 in his rookie season. He has no big spending plans.

"I've been staying in a hotel ever since summer league, so I'll probably find a condo to rent," he said. "I'll probably try to find a car somewhere. I don't even know what I want, I'm just driving around in a little rental car right now. But I'm not someone who's flashy, so I have no problem waiting for when the time is right to do things like that."

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