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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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WNBA Semifinals: Aces at Mystics - Game 2: Date, time, TV channel, live stream how to watch

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WNBA Semifinals: Aces at Mystics - Game 2: Date, time, TV channel, live stream how to watch

After a thrilling back-and-forth contest to start the WNBA Semifinals, the Washington Mystics and Elena Delle Donne are back in action to host the Las Vegas Aces for Game 2.

Washington took Game 1 97-95 over Las Vegas in their first game in nine days to start the series. Rusty and stuttering out of the gate, the Mystics were able to gut out a win after an explosive run in the third and early fourth quarter. 

Emma Meesseman (27 points) led the charge for Washington. In the third quarter, she took over the game totaling 13 of the team's 26 points and got the Mystics back in control of the contest. Elena Delle Donne finished with 24 points and hit the game-clinching basket in the final minute of regulation.

A'ja Wilson had 23 points in a losing effort, despite playing all but three minutes. Off the bench, Kelsey Plum emerged with 16 points to give the Aces an additional spark. 

Game 2 is on Thursday, Sept. 19 at 8:30 p.m. ET at the Entertainment and Sports Arena. The best-of-five series features the high-powered and No. 1 seeded Mystics against the most defensively sound squad in the No. 4 seeded Aces.

The Aces entered the series with a ton of momentum, fresh off one of the craziest wins in WNBA history. They gut-punched the top seed in the opening half and nearly stole it in the closing seconds. Nevertheless, it appears the Mystics with the third-best offense in the WNBA's existence found their footing and will be better prepared for Game 2. 

ACES VS. MYSTICS GAME 2:

Who: Las Vegas Aces at Washington Mystics

What: WNBA Semifinals Game 2

When: Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: Entertainment and Sports Arena, Washington D.C.

TV Channel: ESPN2

Live Stream: WatchESPN

MYSTICS vs. ACES WNBA SEMIFINALS SCHEDULE:

Game 1: Mystics 97, Aces 95 (Mystics lead 1-0)

Game 2: Thurs, Sept. 19: Aces at Mystics, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Game 3: Sun, Sept. 22: Mystics at Aces, 5:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Game 4: Tue, Sept 24: Mystics at Aces, Time TBD, ESPN2 (if necessary)

Game 5: Thurs, Sept. 26: Aces at Mystics, Time TBD, ESPN2 (if necessary)

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A comprehensive timeline of Isaiah Thomas' injury history

A comprehensive timeline of Isaiah Thomas' injury history

Isaiah Thomas is out for six to eight weeks after undergoing successful surgery on his radial collateral ligament in his left thumb Wednesday.

His absence will leave the Wizards perilously thin at point guard heading into the season.

“This was an unfortunate setback for Isaiah, but with his resolve and the top care he will receive from our medical team, we expect him to make a full recovery,” Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard said in a release. “In the meantime, he will continue to mentor our young guards and have a positive impact on the team as we start training camp.”

Thomas' thumb issue is the latest in a long line of injuries that have caused him to miss time during his nine-year NBA career.

Here's a list of injuries that Isaiah Thomas has sustained during his playing career:

April 2013 — A quadriceps contusion kept Thomas out for 10 games, the first time in his career he was sidelined with an injury.

Aug. 14, 2014 — Thomas underwent arthroscopic wrist surgery during the offseason to fix an issue he'd been dealing with since the prior season.

Nov. - Dec. 2014 — Thomas sprained his ankle while with the Phoenix Suns. The Suns went 3-5 in his absence.

March 9, 2015 — Thomas, after moving to the Celtics, missed eight games with a lower back injury. Boston went 5-3 while Thomas was sidelined. 

Dec. 2016 — In the next season, still with the Celtics, a groin strain kept Thomas out for four games.

March 16, 2017 — Later that same season, a knee bruise sidelined Thomas for two more games.

May 4, 2017 — During the playoffs, Thomas had his tooth knocked out in the middle of a game. He didn't miss any time, but it's impossible to make this list without including that incident.

May 20, 2017 — Two weeks later, a hip injury kept him out for the rest of the Celtics' playoff run.

Sept. 7, 2017 — After being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Cavs' medical staff had questions about the health of Thomas' hip. To complete the deal, the Celtics sent another second-round draft pick via the Miami Heat to the Cavaliers. Lingering hip issues would keep Thomas out until Jan. 6, 2018.

March 29, 2018 — Thomas was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in early February, only to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right hip at the end of March. With a projected four-month recovery time, he was done for the season.

Sept. 18, 2019 — Thomas finished the 2018 season with the Denver Nuggets and signed with the Wizards in July of 2019. On Sept. 16, he injured his left thumb in team workouts. On Sept. 18, the team announced he'd undergone successful surgery and would be out for six to eight weeks.

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