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Virginia Tech's Nickeil Alexander-Walker is ready to elevate Canada's profile in the NBA

Virginia Tech's Nickeil Alexander-Walker is ready to elevate Canada's profile in the NBA

Nickeil Alexander-Walker remembers the moment he feels Canada’s contribution to the talent pool in the NBA changed. 

It was long before the Toronto Raptors won the NBA championship and even before he and fellow countryman R.J. Barrett were among two of the top 2019 NBA Draft prospects. It was back in the summer of 2017 when Team Canada beat the USA and squashed its hopes for a third straight FIBA U19 World Cup for Men title in the tournament’s semifinals. Canada ultimately won.

Alexander-Walker wasn’t even on the team — Barrett was — but the 20-year-old guard said Canada’s victory sent a message to the U.S., as well as the rest of the world: “Now, you guys gotta listen. Now, you guys gotta take us seriously.”

A native of the Toronto area, Alexander-Walker is ready to help take Canada’s reputation in the basketball world to the next level, and he’s projected to be a top-20 draft pick this year. 

“The NBA and U.S. produce great players, but Canada is now showing we do the same,” Alexander-Walker said in an interview with NBC Sports Washington. He declared for the NBA Draft following his sophomore year at Virginia Tech.

In his second season with the Hokies, he led the team with 16.2 points and 1.9 steals per game. He scored in double-digits in 29-of-34 games this season, and he hit his season-high of 25 points three different times. (His NCAA career-high in-game points was actually 29 as a freshman last season in Virginia Tech’s win over The Citadel.)

NBC Sports Washington’s latest mock draft projects the 6-foot-5, 205-pound shooting guard will be the No. 20 overall draft pick by the Boston Celtics, thanks to a trade from the Los Angeles Clippers. 

While they’ll still contribute to a small percentage, Alexander-Walker and Barrett — a one-and-done forward out of Duke — certainly won’t be the only Canadian players in the league. Power forward Chris Boucher is the only Canadian-born player on the Raptors’ title-winning roster, and he was on the Golden State Warriors’ winning team last season. Before him, Tristan Thompson was the last Canadian player to win an NBA title, which he did in 2016 with the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

And then there is, of course, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Alexander-Walker’s cousin who plays for the Los Angeles Clippers. Gilgeous-Alexander was the 11th overall 2018 NBA Draft pick out of Kentucky and started in 79 games this season, including the Clippers’ first-round playoffs matchup against the Warriors. 

Alexander-Walker said his cousin is currently letting him stay with him in Los Angeles, and it’s just one of the countless ways the pair support each other. While he’s waiting to realize his own big-league dreams, he was still in awe watching Gilgeous-Alexander accomplish so many of the things they talked about while growing up together.

“If you were a cousin in our family, you were a brother,” he said.

The two star athletes were always doing something together, and it wasn’t just about basketball, Alexander-Walker said. Throughout their childhood summers, they’d play football, soccer and baseball too, and he’d spend a lot of time at his cousin’s house.

“We really pushed each other,” said Alexander-Walker. “We knew we had the same goal. We really sharpened each other. As the Bible says, 'Iron sharpens iron.'

“He was everything I needed, and I tried to be everything he needed. In terms of support, he was always there to support me, and I’ve tried to be there for him. And everything he has taught me [about] this game and how he was a great point guard and how I can help him with scoring.”

Although Alexander-Walker hands Vince Carter “full credit for putting Toronto on the map” in the NBA, he still said when he was a kid, everyone pretended to be Allen Iverson. That’s just the way it was in his household and family in general. He specifically remembers imitating Iverson with the help of a Fisher-Price net.

“Me, Shai and his little brother would be doing up-and-under layups, trying to jump from one side of the door, land on the other, really trying to mimic [Iverson],” Alexander-Walker recalled.

But when it came to one-on-one between the current NBA prospect and his Clipper cousin, Alexander-Walker joked that the stories from back in the day “get skewed” but he’s confident he “won the most” matchups.

That competition against another future NBA player helped make Alexander-Walker the player he is today. He operates under the mentality of winning being important because “people remember the winners,” he said. 

And it’s part of the reason why he’ll do anything to help lift his team to victory, and it’s not always scoring.

“I try to be a winner, and I want to impact the game as much as I can by winning -- whether that is scoring the ball, passing the ball, getting steals, cheering from the sideline,” he said. “Whatever I can do to help my team win is really really big.”

In Virginia Tech’s stunning 77-72 regular-season upset over Duke in February, he finished with 13 points, six assists, five boards and four steals. 

That game, he said, was the highlight of his college career. He remembers the final seconds when Cam Reddish — another top 2019 NBA Draft prospect — missed the last shot, Hokies forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. got the defensive rebound and passed it to Alexander-Walker. He remembers the final buzzer — he had the ball in his hands — and the home court’s jubilant reaction.

And now, after two seasons in college — the Hokies ultimately lost to Duke in the Sweet 16 — Alexander-Walker is off to realize another piece of his childhood dreams. 

When asked what he’d think about the Washington Wizards potentially drafting him with the No. 9 overall pick, he was able to visualize exactly what that moment on draft night would be like, along with his future.

“It’d be a dream come true — the fact that I’m in the NBA and have the opportunity to be what I've always wanted to be as a kid, especially in a great city like Washington, where that's Virginia Tech’s biggest alumni base,” Alexander-Walker said. 

“Having all the support there, it's like being home again. And that would mean so much to me and my family.”

I AM THE PROSPECT

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This date in Wizards history: Bradley Beal sets franchise record for single-season 3-pointers

This date in Wizards history: Bradley Beal sets franchise record for single-season 3-pointers

For the better part of eight years, three-point shooting in Washington DC was synonymous with the name, Gilbert Arenas. 

He was an electric shot-maker and was one of the NBA's revolutionary offensive players, paving the way for a wave of score-first guards like Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving. Before Arenas set the franchise record for threes made in a season with 205, the previous record was only 158 held by Tracy Murray in 1997-98. He introduced a different level of marksmanship to this town. 

On this day, three years ago, the man who will go down as the best shooting guard in Wizards history set a new standard from three-point range. Against the Clippers in a late-season contest, Bradley Beal hit his 206th three of the season. He would go on to make 223 triples in 2016-17. 

2016-17 was a breakout year for Beal and the Wizards. He averaged 23.1 points per game, the first time he'd averaged over 20 while his teammate John Wall set career-highs in scoring, assists, steals and field goal percentage. 

Washington won 49 games and made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, but in this particular game, they weren't as successful. The Clippers won the game 133-124 thanks to Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and JJ Redick combining for 107 points. 

LA's incredible output from their stars spoiled 27 points from Beal and a 41-point, eight-assist and seven-rebound performance by Wall.

The Clippers went on to finish the season as the fourth seed in the Western Conference, only to lose in the first round to the Jazz thanks to another untimely injury to Blake Griffin. 

The Wizards, as stated before secured the fourth seed in the East, beat the Hawks in six games in the first round and then fell to the Celtics in the second round. It remains the longest playoff run for Beal and Wall. 

Beal may have to watch out for his teammate Davis Bertans, though. At the time of the NBA's suspension, Bertans was at 200 made threes with 18 games to play. Once the season picks back up, the Latvian Laser is in prime position to set a new franchise record. 

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LeBron James scores 36, Wizards still top Lakers in NBA 2K simulation

LeBron James scores 36, Wizards still top Lakers in NBA 2K simulation

These 2K simulations certainly do agree with the Wizards. Coming off a stunning victory over the Bucks Friday, Washington turned around on the second night of a back-to-back and beat the Lakers 73-66 at virtual Capital One Arena. 

LeBron James was a one-man wrecking crew for LA, Bradley Beal led the scoring attack for the Wizards and Thomas Bryant got revenge on the team that waived him. 

Here's how the Wizards picked up their fourth-straight 2K win. 

Offensive rebounds

The Lakers are one of the biggest teams in the NBA with James, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard playing heavy minutes, but it was the Wizards who dominated the boards in this one. 

Bryant led the way for Washington on the glass with seven of his 13 rebounds coming on the offensive end. The Lakers shot the ball significantly better than the Wizards (47% to 39%) but Washington was simply overwhelming them on the glass to create more opportunities. 

Washington grabbed 18 offensive rebounds compared to the Lakers' eight, and it ended being the major difference in the result. 

LeBron's one-man show

The real-life Lakers' biggest weakness is their lack of playmaking outside of James. In a game where James had everything working for him, the Lakers struggled to get anything going whenever he didn't have the ball. 

Rajon Rondo struggled mightily despite tallying eight assists (2-11 FG) and Davis had a bad game relative to his standards (10 points, one rebound, three blocks).

I'd be curious to see what virtual LeBron would have to say about his teammates after this particular game. 

Thomas Bryant's revenge

As we stated before, Bryant was waived by the Lakers after his rookie season and his virtual self took it all out on his former team Saturday night. 

He dominated the boards and once again protected the paint in a way that would make Elvin Hayes proud. He finished with eight points, 13 rebounds and five blocks. 

With Bryant playing the way he has been the last few simulations, the Wizards' defense has been exceptional. Outside of defensive versatility, having a strong defensive center anchoring the defense is paramount to an effective unit. 

Other parting thoughts

Jerome Robinson continues to play well as a starter, scoring 13 points in 19 minutes. The Wizards didn't get that long of a look at Robinson before the NBA suspended its season.

After acquiring him at the trade deadline in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, it'd be another steal by Tommy Sheppard if Robinson can play like this consistently in real life. 

Instead of erupting in the fourth quarter to help the Wizards secure a win, Beal went off for 14 points in the third this time. He finished with 24 points and went 12-for-30 from the field.

Markieff Morris made a return to DC in this one. The Lakers uniform looks weird on him. 

It's hard to capture just how quick Ish Smith is in a video game, but this spin move came pretty close. 

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