From YouTube Sensation to No. 8 Pick
Get an in-depth look at Nik Stauskas’ remarkable basketball journey from a seldom-known high schooler to a Sacramento Kings Lottery selection.
In between a dizzying gauntlet of radio interviews, photo shoots and TV spots on the Brooklyn Nets’ practice court that serves as a backstage live-shot area inside Barclays Center, Kings draftee Nik Stauskas finally has a chance to check his phone, scrolling through hundreds of congratulatory messages from family members, friends and new Kings teammates.
“The whole day, my phone has been vibrating non-stop,” says Stauskas, hours before he’ll have a free moment to reply to Twitter shout-outs from Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, DeMarcus Cousins, Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum. “It’s still at 63 (unread text) messages right now. Twitter has just been crazy!”
Bursting with excitement and reflecting on a fulfilled lifelong dream, the No. 8 pick adjusts his black and purple Kings Draft hat and continues weaving through the maze of media stations as camera crews and photographers jostle for position around him. When a TSN reporter lightheartedly asks if he can borrow Stauskas’ checker-patterned suit jacket, the Michigan product doesn’t miss a beat, happily obliging to pose for an impromptu photo shoot.
“This feels awesome,” he says. “Being the eighth pick in the Draft and being drafted to a great organization where I know they’re committed to winning and doing the right things, I’m extremely happy.”
After exchanging hugs and high-fives with fellow draftees Adreian Payne and Dante Exum, Stauskas is whisked away to a reserved conference room for a call with Sacramento media.
Asked if he believes he’s the best shooter in his Draft class, the 6-foot-6 guard doesn’t hesitate.
“Definitely – without a doubt,” he responds. “As much as I’ve expanded my game over the last couple of years, shooting is definitely the thing I do best and I take pride in it. Coming in, I feel like when I get my feet set and I have a good look at the basket, there aren’t many people in the League who can knock down shots like I can.”
From the online three-point clinics that made him an Internet sensation to countless record-setting performances at Michigan to his attention-grabbing Draft Night outfit, everything about Stauskas oozes confidence.
"Remember when Manu (Ginobili) came in with the Spurs, he just came in with an attitude?" said ESPN NBA analyst Bill Simmons during Thursday’s Draft telecast. "He was a little bit fearless, always an irrational confidence guy offensively. I like this pick for (the Kings)."
"He's fearless," affirmed former Michigan and NBA star Jalen Rose. "He thinks he's the best player on the court every time out."
Preparing for a given matchup, the Mississauga, Ontario native’s pregame routine typically includes listening to tunes by a fellow Canadian and pop megastar.
“I like to keep it pretty mellow, pretty chill before games, (so I) just listen to music – a lot of Justin Bieber,” reveals Stauskas. “He’s probably my favorite artist. People are going to question that one, but (fans will) understand – I’m a huge Bieber fan!”
While his playlist may raise a few eyebrows, his work ethic and poise are anything but questionable, as the 20-year-old has rapidly ascended from a relatively anonymous high schooler to a top-ranked NBA prospect.
Less than three years ago, his father, Paul, planned to increase Nik’s exposure in basketball circles by sharing videos of his son’s remarkable long-range accuracy – showcasing the guard effortlessly connecting from any distance on a nondescript court behind the Stauskas household.
“Initially, we wanted to get his name out there because nobody knew who this kid from Toronto was,” says Paul. “He was the leading scorer in high school – he was averaging close to 30 points a game –and nobody knew who he was … we used it as a tool to show people he really can do the things we claim he can do.”
Videos of the Canadian youngster drilling 128 of 142 and then 70 of 76 triples in the rain furiously spread across the Web, catching the attention of fans, coaches, media personalities and NBA players alike. Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry – the League’s single-season three-point record-holder – came away so impressed, he promptly challenged Stauskas to a three-point contest over Twitter.
Although the friendly competition never transpired, the Kings rookie still hopes to one day vie against the All-NBA Teamer on the backyard concrete.
“(Would I win) on my home court?” he chuckles before shrugging his shoulders. “Maybe.”
Stauskas – who joined his uncle’s club basketball team at age seven – credits his father for not only helping him help gain international exposure, but playing a pivotal role in crafting and perfecting his picture-perfect jumpshot.
“(My dad) was the one who kind of taught me everything I know about basketball and he’s developed my shot to this point,” he says. “He’s spent countless hours out there rebounding for me.”
Despite residing in a country far more renowned for grooming NHL prodigies, Paul opted to place a basketball rather than a hockey stick in his son’s hands at an early age.
“I was a hockey fan as a kid, but it’s really hard to get ice time, and it was just much easier to play basketball,” explains the proud father. “Basketball was a lot closer to my heart.
“I’m an ex-basketball player – never very good, but I loved the game – and it was one of those things that a father and son just spent time doing,” he continues. “I just helped him out here and there … wherever I thought he was a little bit wrong, I helped him out. But mostly, it was just a million shots – eventually you get it right, and he got it right.”
Stauskas soon made a name for himself north of the border, shining in Toronto’s AAU circuit and later competing with Team Canada at the 2009 FIBA Americas Under-16 Championship in Argentina – a bittersweet and eye-opening experience that helped shape his basketball career.
“It was a good experience – we went to Argentina and won a bronze medal,” he says. “(But) I didn’t play a lot there on that team, so it was one of the things that motivated me to work harder.”
Upon earning a scholarship to the University of Michigan, Stauskas – nicknamed “Tube” by Assistant Coach LaVall Jordan for his incredible YouTube exploits – averaged 11.0 points per game on 44 percent from behind the arc as a freshman, earning Big Ten Conference Freshman of the Week honors three times and developing a reputation as one of the nation’s most prolific outside scorers.
Determined to prove he’s more than a one-dimensional specialist, the versatile guard worked diligently to improve his all-around game the following season, emerging into a swift decision maker, effective ball handler and aggressive pick-and-roll scorer. As a sophomore, Stauskas led the Wolverines in both points (17.5 per game) and assists (3.3) en route to earning Consensus Second-Team All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year honors as he led the Wolverines to the conference championship.
“I think over the summer coming into my sophomore year, I added a lot of strength, speed and athleticism,” he says. “At the same time, I feel I’ve just made a lot of strides on my mental game, just being more confident in myself and believing in myself even when things aren’t going my way.”
Among his myriad of basketball idols – which include four-time MVP LeBron James, Lithuanian legends Sarunas Marciulionis and Arvydas Sabonis, and former Kings show-stopper Jason Williams – Stauskas’ role model at Ann Arbor was one of the NBA’s swiftest ball-handlers and most creative scorers.
“When I came to Michigan, Jamal Crawford was a guy I was really looking up to at that time, and (when) he played at Michigan, he wore No. 11,” says Stauskas, who became the highest Michigan selection in the Draft since Crawford fittingly went eighth in 2000. “I just wanted to honor him with that over my two years.”
With No. 11 hanging in the rafters at Sleep Train Arena in tribute to franchise legend and Hall of Famer Bobby Davies, Stauskas chose No. 10 with the Kings, aiming to bring the same championship mentality to the River City as the revered point guard who prominently wore the number for six-and-a-half seasons before him, Mike Bibby.
“I like to win and I’m an unselfish player who likes making the right play,” says Stauskas. “My two years at Michigan, I’ve shown I’m all about winning, I’m all about being a team player, so I’m going to bring that same attitude to Sacramento.”
Kings front office, coaching and scouting personnel universally agree the multifaceted guard is a perfect complement to Sacramento’s offensive system and long perceived him as the team’s missing puzzle piece.
“When you have a coaching staff and a front office that feels the same way about a player in the Draft, it’s unique,” says General Manager Pete D’Alessandro. “It feels great as a front office person and as a general manager when you have a unanimous feeling within the Draft room, and that clearly was the situation.”
“You look at our team this past season and a lot of the things that we lacked on the court – offensively, defensively, culturally – I think Nik Stauskas brings a lot to the table,” says Head Coach Michael Malone, who raved about the Michigan product to Kings Chairman and Majority Owner Vivek Ranadivé during the season. “Shooting, passing, ball-handling, creativity – and I think he’s only going to get better.”
ESPN College Basketball Analyst Fran Fraschilla – who characterizes Stauskas as a blend of sharpshooting wings Klay Thompson and Kyle Korver – shares a similar outlook on the guard’s future and immediate fit with the Kings.
“Nik has an ‘It’ factor because he’s not only a great shooter and skilled in different areas, (but) he plays with great confidence,” says Fraschilla. “Nik has become more than a shooter – he’s become an offensive weapon with the ball in his hands. There aren’t many guys like him. He can handle the ball, he’s a good passer and his ability to get to the rim (has improved), but his primary weapon is going to be his ability to keep double-teams off DeMarcus Cousins.”
Stauskas believes his strong basketball IQ and silky-smooth outside touch will allow him to make a smooth on-court transition from Michigan to Sacramento, where he’ll serve as a much-needed downtown threat on a squad that ranked 27th in three-point accuracy in 2013-14.
“I know this team has kind of struggled shooting the ball, and obviously, that’s probably the best part of my game to this point,” he says. “So knocking down shots and spreading the floor is definitely something I’m excited to do for this team.”
Although a busy collegiate campaign and demanding workout program seldom afforded him the opportunity to watch Kings games in recent years, No. 10 is abundantly familiar with the passion and fervor of purple-and-black diehards.
“The one thing I know about Sacramento fans – especially, I remember when (Chris Webber) was there and they were really winning – is people said it was one of the toughest places to play in the whole NBA,” he says. “So, I know their fans are very loyal and they’re going to be loud every night.”
Amid a sea of flashbulbs, Stauskas hears a thunderous ovation from throngs of supporters in the Barclays Center rafters before Commissioner Adam Silver can finish announcing Sacramento’s selection on Draft Night. The No. 8 pick – who received a phone call moments prior from the Kings Draft Room – doesn’t disappoint the elated crowd by flaunting his patented swagger, pulling off a flawless handshake routine with his father that culminates with the “three-goggles” celebration he popularized at Michigan.
“That’s just me and my dad having fun,” he explains. “I have a really special relationship with him and I’m really excited I got to share that moment with him. So, (Wednesday) night we kind of planned to do something funny.”
Pausing to reflect on the life-altering evening prior to stepping inside a dimly-lit, private family area, as Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” blares from the speakers, Stauskas describes his basketball journey as a non-stop rollercoaster.
“There have been a lot of ups and downs, there have been moments where I didn’t think I was going to make it this far, but I’ve worked extremely hard and I’ve been persistent,” he says, taking a deep breath.
“I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder, and I feel just playing with that chip on my shoulder has given me an ability to work hard and fight through adversity. I’ve had a winning attitude my entire life and I’ve been successful everywhere I’ve been, so I’m not going to let (the Kings) down.”
Get to Know Nik
- Favorite TV shows: “Friends” and “Family Guy”
- Favorite movie: “Dumb & Dumber”
- Favorite food: General Tso’s chicken
- Favorite animals: Cheetah – “It’s pretty cool if you can be that fast.”
- Favorite sneakers: Air Jordan XI Cool Gray
- Second language: Lithuanian – “My whole family is Lithuanian. My grandparents, they all came over from Lithuania and they all speak it fluently. I don’t speak it fluently at this point, but I can still understand it pretty well and I can speak it OK.”