VICTORIA — The Toronto Raptors' intrasquad game Thursday night was a virtual history lesson for Canadian Kyle Wiltjer.
Held on the same University of Victoria campus where his dad Greg once starred, Wiltjer posed for photos with UVIC's legendary coach Ken Shields, who guided his father. UVIC staff showing him trading cards and team photos that featured his dad.
"It's like coming full circle," Wiltjer said. "I was on the phone with my dad and he said it was like deja vu seeing me here (at UVIC). Most importantly, my grandpa (John, who lives just north in Victoria in Duncan) got to watch me play. He hasn't seen me play in a long time.
"It's fun, especially being for the Toronto Raptors, other side of the country, it's cool to get over here and see the fans, because they're super passionate."
The six-foot-10, 24-year-old three-point specialist is battling for a job with the Raptors, and padded his job application Thursday night by draining five threes in a 17-point performance.
With the league's continuing evolution into a long-range shooting league, and after the Raptors were badly outshot by Cleveland in last season's playoffs, Toronto is looking to beef up its three-point production. And so Wiltjer and fellow Canadian Andy Rautins, also a lights-out shooter, earned training camp invites. Rautins had four threes on Thursday night in front of a jam-packed crowd of 2,700 fans.
Coach Dwane Casey laughed when a reporter noted the two shooters were Canadian.
"I don't know what country they're from, I don't care if they're from the moon," Casey said. "Kyle shot the ball very well, Andy shot the ball very well. They executed our shot spectrum, our ball movement was good."
Wiltjer actually grew up in Portland and has dual citizenship, but the family made regular trips up the coast to Vancouver Island to visit his grandparents.
Greg Wiltjer played with Rautins' dad Leo on Canada's national team. Kyle Wiltjer jokingly tweeted on Raptors' media day: "I bet good money Andy and I would outshoot you and my dad @LeoRautins #snipers."
Greg Wiltjer played on Canada's team at the 1984 Olympics against a U.S. team featuring Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing. He won a national university title with UVIC before playing professionally in Europe for 12 years.
He was easily the biggest influence in his young son's burgeoning basketball career.
"Being at an early age, just getting the ball in my hands, ever since I can remember he was always working me out growing up," Wiltjer said of his dad.
The younger Wiltjer went on to win an NCAA title with Kentucky before switching to Gonzaga. His visit to the White House with the 2012 victorious Wildcats was partly what prompted a tweet about U.S. President Donald Trump. After Steph Curry said he wouldn't visit the White House, Trump tweeted that he was rescinding the Golden State Warriors' invitation.
"It's a shame that some of these amazing players have to miss out on this opportunity because of the ignorance of the man that is now in charge," Wiltjer wrote. "Respect to UNC and Golden State for standing up for the values they believe in."
As the Raptors wrapped up training camp Friday before boarding a flight to Honolulu, he reflected on the political climate in the U.S.
"It's pretty crazy being up in Canada, it seems like we're kind of away from it," Wiltjer said. "But obviously my family is from the States, and right now it's just tough, people need to be together, and that's the one thing for myself is I'm not in it, but I have a voice. It's unfortunate that things are going down right now."
Wiltjer called meeting former president Barack Obama, who knew every Kentucky player by name, "one of the best experiences of my life."
Wiltjer went on to play 14 games last season for the Houston Rockets, totalling 13 points and 10 rebounds. He starred for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA G League, scoring a combined 43 points in Games 1 and 2 of the league finals — eventually won by Raptors 905.
Raptors fans got their first look of newcomer C.J. Miles on Thursday night, who was acquired in the off-season for his three-point shooting. Miles, who's been under the weather with an abscessed tooth — "I've been on antibiotics, and as much Advil and Tylenol I could take" — said it will take a bit of time to become accustomed to the Raptors' ball handlers.
"The shots I'm getting are in different spots than I got in the last system I was in, so it's just training my legs, and my mind and my body to make those things instinct, sliding to the right spots, and understanding the guys I'm playing with, the way they like to play," Miles said.
The 12-year-old NBA veteran, who played for Utah, Cleveland and Indiana, said he's been impressed with the poise of Toronto's young players in particular.
"Usually guys have a learning curve, but because the organization does such a good job of being around guys in the summer, it made it so much easier for the guys," Miles said. "Their comprehension of the rotations and just everything we're trying to do in general was just so far ahead that you usually see in young guys, because they kind of get overloaded the first couple of days.
"Same with me. Ever since I signed I had somebody (from the Raptors) with me pretty much every week in the summer, coming down to Texas or I went out to L.A. They made it clear and right to the point that they wanted to be a contender this year, we wanted to win, and that's the goal, and they approached it that way."
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press