Raptors Free Agent Mini camp awash with Canadian talent

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Former Carleton Raven Thomas Scrubb (black jersey)

On Point exclusive written by Charles Vanegas 

The Toronto Raptors held a free agent mini camp at their downtown practice court June 11-12, with 21 players competing for a spot on the team’s summer league roster. Amongst them was DeAndre Daniels, the Raptors 2014 2nd-round draft pick, who looked to take advantage of his time with Raptors staff after a year playing for Perth in Australia’s NBL.

A handful of former NBA players were also present, including former Charlotte Bobcats power forward Tyrus Thomas (drafted 4th overall by the Bulls in ’06) and former New York Knicks centre Jeremy Tyler, who most recently played for Shanxi Zhongyu of the Chinese Basketball Association.

Thomas, like several other camp participants, spent the previous season in the NBA Development League (Iowa Energy), hoping to get his next shot at the NBA.

“There are so many players in the league that are successful that didn’t have that traditional path. Usually they’re a high character guy because they’ve gone that route, having had those trials and errors,” said Raptors director of scouting Dan Tolzman. “He’s along that same path.”

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Six Canadians were invited, including 7-foot-2 former Arizona State centre Jordan Bachynski, former Oregon forward Olu Ashaolu and former UNLV forward Khem Birch.

Ashaolu returns to Toronto for his third summer as a pro, most recently from Japan, where he played for Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix, which won the BJ-League title this season. Unfortunately for Ashaolu, he injured himself on the first day of Raptors camp, making it difficult for staff to evaluate him. However, he hopes his familiarity with some of the coaches will help. If not, he said he’ll continue to hone his craft, whether domestically or overseas.

“There’s only 450 spots in the NBA and there’s a million guys that want to play. Not everyone can make the NBA, and not everyone [that does] can make it right off the bat… so you’ve got to trust the process and you’ve got to stay persistent,” said Ashaolu. “But in the meantime, if you’re not in the NBA, go overseas and get on with your life.”

“I’ve played in Spain, I’ve played in France, I’ve played in Japan, and I’ve learned a lot about different cultures and countries. If I never make it to the NBA, I know that I’ve gotten better and have accumulated so many different experiences… Believe me, there’s more to life than basketball.”

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Canadian Olu Famutimi (#19) goes for the block

Bachynski, the 2014 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, played last season with Eskişehir Basket of the Turkish league and the Westchester Knicks of the NBA D-League. While playing for New York’s developmental team allowed him to work with Knicks coaching staff at the team’s facility on a regular basis, he said the biggest thing he took away was a mentality: adapt or die.

“D-League, it’s tough. You don’t have the private jets and weather plays a huge factor,” said Bachynski. “I remember one game day we couldn’t land because of fog, so then we had to take a bus. The bus broke down and we pulled up like half an hour before the game started, and we hadn’t eaten all day. We had Subway in the locker room half an hour before the game and we had to perform.”

“If you can’t adapt with this lifestyle, living overseas, you’re not going to be successful.”

Bachynski also credits his time spent in Los Angeles playing in the renowned Drew League with giving him an edge in Raptors camp.

“My reputation, for whatever reason, was that I was an underweight big man and that I didn’t play strong, so the Drew League has really taught me to go through contact, not shy away,” he said.

“Throughout this whole camp, I’ve been getting a lot of free throw attempts because I’m taking the ball at guys, I’m not shying away from contact, I’m the one generating the contact and refs see that and reward you for it.”

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Two other Canadians invited were former Carleton Ravens, brothers Phil and Thomas Scrubb. While the five-time CIS champions were the only two players without pro experience, they were said to have fit in with ease.

“It’s hard to say how they’ve progressed in two days, but they’ve been impressive… they more than held their own here. I don’t know if they’re the youngest guys in here, but they’re definitely two of the youngest guys here and you couldn’t tell,” said Tolzman. “The way that they approach the game, and the way they’ve approached these two days all around, they’re just very professional.”

Former Arkansas Razorback, Olu Famutimi, now of the NBL Canada’s Island Storm rounded out the Canadian contingent.

Summer league rosters will be announced in July, after the NBA Draft on June 25.

Written by Charles Vanegas

Edited by Drew Ebanks

Photos by Charles Vanegas

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