Wiggins ready to again don Maple Leaf for Olympic qualifier in Victoria

A family story in international sport, spanning nearly four decades, will come to a head next week at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.

Andrew Wiggins said his mom Marita Payne, 1984 L.A. Olympics track double silver-medallist in the relays for Canada, is the person who convinced him to rejoin the Canadian basketball team for the Tokyo Olympics qualifying tournament on Blanshard Street from Tuesday to July 4.

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The 2014-15 NBA rookie of the year, after being selected first overall in the 2014 draft, was disgruntled following Canada’s crushing upset loss to Venezuela in qualifying play in Mexico City for the 2016 Rio Olympics. He has since excused himself from national team duty — until now.

“My mom was influential,” said Wiggins, about his decision to again don the Maple Leaf.

“She said [her two Olympics] were a good experience and this is a good chance. The decision seemed the right move for me this summer. I’m looking forward to it,” he added, during a Zoom conference call Wednesday with Canadian sports media.

Wiggins’ first two forays in red were in leading Canada to bronze medals in the 2010 FIBA U-17 World Cup in Hamburg, Germany, and 2012 U-18 FIBA Americas in Sao Sebastiao, Brazil.

The international connections filter into his dad’s side, too, as Mitchell Wiggins won silver with the U.S. basketball team in the 1982 FIBA world championship in Colombia. The elder Wiggins played in the NBA before finishing his pro run with a long career in the Greek league. As it turns out, Andrew Wiggins and Canada open the six-team Tokyo Olympics qualifier against Greece on Tuesday at the Memorial Centre.

Asked by reporters about the Rio 2016 Olympic qualifying loss in 2015 at Mexico City, Wiggins replied: “I think about it sometimes but it was a long time ago.”

Enough time for a lot of water to flow under the Johnson Street Bridge. Enough time for old wounds to heal. Enough time for him to agree to be in Victoria.

“Our team is even better now with a lot of good talent,” said Wiggins, who grew up in Vaughan, Ont.

“Some of the guys are older and more experienced. And we’ve got a lot of great young guys. It should be a good one.”

Wiggins is now with the Golden State Warriors, after beginning his NBA career with 5 1/2 seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and said he has absorbed a “championship mindset” from Warriors veterans such as Draymond Green despite not being part of their glory years.

“I want to lead by example,” said Wiggins.

Canada is expected to make good use of Wiggins’ particular skill sets.

“He is a versatile player who can get out of jams and get shots off when things get murky,” said Canadian head coach Nick Nurse.

Wiggins is among eight NBA players on the Canadian team, which breaks training camp today in Tampa, Florida, to head to Victoria.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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