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Canadian Chris Boucher continues ascent on Raptors roster

Generation of Canadian players ready to bloom
Players wind down at the end of practice during the Toronto Raptors training camp at CARSA this week. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

The Golden Generation continues to bloom with three Canadians among the 20 players in the Toronto Raptors NBA training camp taking place this week at CARSA Gym.  

It was considered a revelation when two-time Olympian Eli Pasquale came out of the University of Victoria Vikes to be invited to the NBA training camps of the Seattle SuperSonics and Chicago Bulls in the 1980s. There still weren’t many fellow Canadians in the NBA when Olympian Steve Nash of Victoria won the 2004-05 and 2005-06 NBA MVP awards. But it all laid the groundwork for the current so-called Golden Generation as a record 18 Canadians played in the NBA last season.

“We’ve come a long way from only a couple of players, to 20 to 30 [possibly this season], and there’s more in the pipeline of Canadian players coming through,” said Raptors forward Chris Boucher, born in Saint Lucia, and raised in Montreal.

Joining Boucher in Raptors training camp are fellow-Canadians Khem Birch of Russell, Ont., and second-year Raptors pro and Toronto-native Dalano Banton, the team’s second-round selection in the 2021 NBA draft.

“It’s a great thing to see,” said Boucher.

“There have been a lot of people involved working behind the scenes to give us opportunities.”

Boucher has taken advantage of every one of his and has been rewarded for it, re-signing with the Raptors this summer with a three-season, $35-million USD contract. It’s a remarkable rise after playing only bit parts in back-to-back NBA championships with the Golden State Warriors in 2017-18 and Raptors in 2018-19.

Naturally, that has the younger players in Raptors camp at UVic looking up to the 29-year-old, and asking how he did it, and how they can follow in his high-tops. Boucher answers: “If you’re here, you’re doing something right. I tell them you wouldn’t be here if they really didn’t like you. Just keep doing what you’re doing to have gotten here and the door will open.”

It did for Boucher. And he doesn’t take going through that door for granted, and worked diligently all summer with his Raptors teammates.

“Most of the core young guys are back, so we get to the drill pretty quick [in training camp],” he said.

“Some of us have been together all summer so we got to know each other more. It definitely helps. I really wanted to put in the work and be on top of my game. We have had more years together now, so chemistry is going to be better.”

While the younger players see Boucher as a role model, he in turn looks to the team’s two leaders – Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet.

Boucher was asked about Siakam in particular and responded: “He has more maturity and is older and all that. [Siakam] can score from anywhere and was working hard this summer. When somebody works hard like that, usually it pays off. [Observers] are going to see it this year. He has all the tools to be in the MVP conversation. He’s been talking to every young guy on this team. That’s something that you build over the years.”

Just as the six-foot-10 Boucher has built his own reputation as a professional power forward since coming undrafted out of the NCAA Pac-12 University of Oregon Ducks.

The training camp portion at UVic this week is closed to the public. The Raptors intra-squad game Friday night at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre is sold-out.

This is the 12th time the Raptors have held their training camp outside Toronto and the second time in Victoria, following 2017, and seventh time overall in B.C.

The Raptors, who have a national following as Canada’s lone NBA franchise, will play exhibition games Sunday against the Utah Jazz at Rogers Place in Edmonton and Oct. 14 against the Boston Celtics at the Bell Centre in Montreal as part of their five-game pre-season schedule.

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