Raptors eager to add Canadians: GM

Keynote speaker Masai Ujiri stole the show at Canadian Interuniversity Sport's Canadian Basketball Speakers forum on Monday night.

Fittingly, at a night that was billed to kick off Canada's top hoops showcase, the CIS Final 8, Ujiri, the Raptors president and general manager, made it clear that he is eager to add some Canadian content to his squad.

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“We are an NBA team, it's important we look for talent everywhere, but it is on our minds to get a Canadian player or Canadian players,” Ujiri said at Ryerson's Mattamy Athletic Centre, after he had delivered his address.

And then Ujiri dropped a mild bombshell.

“We are studying it. I even considered last year hiring somebody to concentrate just on Canadian players and I think I'm going to go through with it because the growth of the game here is so big,” he said.

“It's the fit. We can maybe take our time and study it a little bit so it is the right fit and not do it just to do it. It's going to come, there is no doubt in my mind. It's an obligation that I think we have to fulfil. We are a Canadian team and I think to have Canadian players, I think will be phenomenal.”

It is no secret that the Raptors are huge fans of Andrew Wiggins. They cannot come right out and say it, but they nearly tanked last season for a shot at the best Canadian talent since Steve Nash and are already thinking ahead to the day they will be able to woo him as a free agent, even if that day is years down the line.

Earlier, Ujiri had amped up the crowd merely by alluding to Wiggins. Asked by ESPN's John Saunders, once the voice of the Raptors, to pick one player other than LeBron James he would love to have on his team, Ujiri coyly said: “We all know who he is, but I won't say his name. He might be Canadian.”

A dull roar followed.

He also added: “There's no doubt during my time, even if my time is short, there will be a Canadian player on the Toronto Raptors. It's important that players get inspired to play for their country, inspired to play for the Raptors. This continues to get bigger.”

Indeed it does. And nothing would be bigger than bringing Wiggins, a lifelong Raptors fan, home one day.

STILL MEANS IT

Saunders introduced Ujiri by mentioning how he is known for a certain speech at the Air Canada Centre last spring. Of course, that was prior to Toronto's playoff series with division rival Brooklyn. You know, the one where he uttered a curse word hear around North America, disparaging Brooklyn.

He would do it again.

“Trust me, I ain't taking that back,” Ujiri said. “I hope we play them again. I'll say it again.”

That drew laughs from the crowd and Ujiri was even chuckling about it.

WORRYING TIME

Ujiri admitted that he is worried about the free-falling Raptors, losers of seven of eight and owners of a losing record since Jan. 1.

“This part of the season has been concerning just because defensively we have to do better,” he said.

“We don't seem to have gone back to our to where we were defensively. I think on offence we are going to be OK, I know sometimes we struggle the fourth quarters. I don't think offence is a problem with our team, we have enough guys, but defensive end ... We don't have many guys on our team who have won elsewhere. They are learning how to consistently win and right now it's a tough period.”

Ujiri is well aware that defensive standout Amir Johnson has been struggling as his body has broken down.

“He is a key part of what we do. We are hoping that he will stay strong and finish it out because he is a huge part of how we play,” Ujiri said.

“When Amir locks it up, we are really good defensive team, he just has that effect on our basketball team. It is very important, but I think Amir will be fine.”



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