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Wiggins' time for Canada is now - already
Andrew Wiggins raced past Argentina forward Patricio Garino towards the left baseline and leapt towards the rim where he dunked over Andres Nocioni in Canada's first game at the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship.
The dunk ended up being a highlight in a loss to the South American powers for Canada, who learned a valuable lesson in their tournament opener. The young Canadians - there are 10 players 25 years and younger on the Canadian squad - were schooled by Argentina veterans Luis Scola and Nocioni while Facundo Campazzo and Nicolas Laprovittola gave the North Americans plenty of problems in a 94-87 Argentina win.
But the Canadians are at the beginning of a process of learning how to win - with Wiggins already beginning to take over a leadership role.
Garino along with Campazzo and Laprovittola represent the future of Argentinean basketball after the golden generation - of which Scola and Nocioni are the final two holdovers. But Wiggins blasted right past Garino from the wing on the way to the basket.
And the Minnesota Timberwolves young star sent a message at the basket, hanging on the rim after the big two-handed dunk and then letting out a big roar and even bumping into the chest of Nocioni afterwards.
Wiggins and Canada are here and ready to finally stake their claim as the number one contender to the mighty United States in FIBA Americas.
Canada have already passed Argentina as challenger number one to the U.S. at the youth level. They have finished ahead of Argentina in the last three FIBA Americas U18 Championships, the Canadians beating Argentina in the Third Place Game in 2010 and 2012 and then knocking off the South Americans in overtime in the 2014 Semi-Finals.
And Canada finally placed ahead of Argentina at last June's FIBA Americas U16 Championship, grabbing second place behind the USA to finish one better than Argentina, who hosted the tournament.
Canada also beat Argentina at this summer's Pan-American Games - though many of Canada's NBA players did not play and neither did Scola and Nocioni. But everyone was on board for both teams at the pre-FIBA Americas Tuto Marchand Cup, and the Canadians knocked off Argentina 85-80 with Wiggins leading the way with 18 points while Scola and Nocioni combined for 46 points.
But the FIBA Americas Championship is an entirely different monster.
The last time Canada finished ahead of Argentina in the continental championship was in 1999 when current Canada Basketball management heads Steve Nash and Rowan Barrett guided the team on the court. On the other side, Scola and Nocioni were both 19 years old, Manu Ginobili was only 21 years old and a 22-year-old Pablo Prigioni was still four years away from making his debut with the Argentinean senior national team.
Wiggins entered his first FIBA Americas tournament at 20 years of age - and the youngest player on the courts in Mexico City.
He had a great rookie season for the Timberwolves, averaging nearly 17 points as well as 4.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.0 steals. He dominated a number of games, scoring 30 or more points four times during the long NBA season.
Canada Basketball leaders know Wiggins is the key to their future.
"He's proved he can do it in the NBA. We need him to be the focal point of what we're doing," said Canada coach Jay Triano.
"I think when we do that, other teams are going to have problems. He's going to be able to find other players."
Wiggins' teammate with Canada and Minnesota Anthony Bennett - himself just 22 years old - went a step further in his take on Wiggins.
Anthony Bennett doesn’t have any questions about Andrew Wiggins’ motor: "He’s a killer. Anywhere he goes, he has that mentality."— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) September 2, 2015
Wiggins and Bennett have a lot binding themselves. Both are Canadians from the Toronto area who went to the United States for high school and then spent one season at an American university - UNLV for Bennett and Kansas for Wiggins - before being number one overall picks in the NBA Draft - Bennett in 2013 and Wiggins in 2014.
One other area they share a common ground in is their importance to the future of Canadian international basketball. They are key clogs in the on-going push of young highly talented players from the land of the Maple Leaf who are hoping to finally carry Canada back to the Olympics.
The last time Canada went to the Summer Games was 2000 after Nash and Barrett had qualified the team at the 1999 FIBA Americas Championship.
Wiggins would get Canada back to the Olympics if he could lead them to the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship title game. Both of the finalists are guaranteed spots at Rio 2016. The teams finishing third to fifth must go through the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments - battling next summer ahead of the Summer Games among 18 teams for the final three spots.
Wiggins and Canada would love to secure a spot for Rio while in Mexico City. And that message was loud and clear when Wiggins went up for his big dunk in the tournament opener.
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