Wiggins, Bennett can silence critics in Minnesota | Basketball | CBC Sports

NBAWiggins, Bennett can silence critics in Minnesota

Posted: Tuesday, August 26, 2014 | 05:49 PM

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Canadians Andrew Wiggins, right, and Anthony Bennett begin a new chapter as members of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Canadians Andrew Wiggins, right, and Anthony Bennett begin a new chapter as members of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

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The opportunity to play with the Minnesota Timberwolves gives Canadians Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett plenty of motivation to prove their critics wrong, writes CBCSports.ca contributor John Chick.
There is a view held by some that Minnesota is America's most "Canadian" state.

Solely driven by stereotypes, of course, the oft-brutal winters, the prominence of hockey on the sporting scene and a similar monophthongal accent are frequently mentioned.

Now thanks to LeBron James and his desire to win a third championship ring faster, the state of 10,000 lakes has a little more Canadiana in its makeup.

Cleveland Canadians, we hardly knew you. Only Tristan Thompson and Dwight Powell remains in LeBron's and Kevin Love's clique.

On Tuesday, Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett were introduced to Twin Cities fans and media at the Minnesota State Fair -- about as folksy, down-home a venue as one could concoct. With a "sugar-free lemonade" sign in the background and amid screaming children, cotton candy and potentially sketchy carnie folk, Wiggins and Bennett sat with fellow new Timberwolves Thaddeus Young and Zach LaVine.

The Canadian teammates, the last two No. 1 overall selections in the NBA draft and born two years apart in Toronto, are now in different places, however. Wiggins ascension to the No. 1 pick this June was a consensus three years ago. Bennett's selection in 2013 came out of nowhere and has been subsequently derided -- if not written off completely -- by some thanks to an awful rookie campaign on the shores of Lake Erie.

Now they're together on what promises to be at least an entertaining, hops-aplenty young squad in Minnesota.

"I wanted to play for a team that wanted me," Wiggins reiterated to the crowd Tuesday, citing his "kind of up-and-down summer" waiting for the trigger to officially be pulled on the Love deal. When interviewed later by Fox Sports North, Wiggins brushed off a question about being left out of James' famous "I'm back" letter to the city of Cleveland, saying he "didn't take it to heart."

If you believe that, then you likely think the Toronto Blue Jays are still in post-season contention. While the thought of watching Wiggins blossom under the tutelage of James (or previously Kobe Bryant, if you believed pre-lottery NBA conspiracy theorists) was somewhat tantalizing, the next few years in Minny, assured rough spots and all, could go a long way to silence the critics of his perceived motor.

Possible rebirth

For Bennett, it's a possible rebirth. After almost going to Philadelphia in the three-way trade, the forward finds himself alongside his old buddy Wiggins. There are several reasons why Bennett had a terrible rookie season. Injuries begat poor physical condition. Poor physical condition can give rise to sleep apnea, as doctors will tell you. For one of the other cogs in Canada's bright basketball future, Bennett says he's only looking ahead.

"I'm 100 per cent," he told Fox Sports North after the public introductions. "It was real tough for me last year, not playing summer league.

"I take full responsibility for that. But I never gave up."

It is worth noting that Bennett's game gradually showed improvement toward the end of the last season. Even more promising is that he showed up for summer league in significantly better shape.

"It's a fresh start," he said.

Bennett reminisced Tuesday about the first time he met Wiggins, when the two played on Canada's FIBA U-17 worlds team in 2010 that captured bronze in Germany.

"We have a chemistry," Bennett said. "It's great to be back on the same court as him.

"I'm pretty sure there's going to be a time where he or I have a bad game and we're going to talk it out."

If healthy, Bennett's prototypical game off the bench could fit like a glove with this uber-athletic Wolves team. While the playoffs in the Western Conference aren't likely to happen this year, a squad featuring Wiggins, fellow first-round pick Zach LaVine and point guard Ricky Rubio are a good argument for investing in NBA League Pass.

"We have a lot of freaks on this team," Wiggins said. 

Earlier this summer, LaVine challenged Wiggins to a dunk off via social media video site Vine, and the footage didn't disappoint. 

"But I ain't doing a windmill from the free-throw line," Wiggins joked.

Of course, no news of the official announcement of Wiggins landing in Minnesota would be complete without conjecture and speculation regarding where he will be when his rookie contract expires. It's funny -- and by funny, I mean infuriatingly annoying -- how sports narratives work. Four years ago, Toronto was in the midst of its usual pity party fuelled by insecurity and haters, opining on how NBA players consistently jilt it (which wasn't entirely accurate).

Fast forward to now and you've got Drake "tampering" with the second-best player in the league, giving rise to hopes Kevin Durant will sign with the Toronto Raptors in 2016, while the homegrown prodigy once christened "Maple Jordan" allegedly eyes one day plying his trade at Bay and Lakeshore. First and foremost, Wiggins knows full well this is a business. 

"I'm situated in a spot I'm going to be for a very, very long time," he said.

Toronto Twitter made note of the two very's. Whatever will be will be. 

The next chapter for Wiggins starts now and the story is only beginning, for him and, quite possibly, Bennett as well.

Last week, Wolves head coach Flip Saunders suggested Wiggins should feel right at home in Minneapolis. 

"He's not afraid of the weather," Saunders said. "He's Canadian."

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