The third in a five-part series looking at some of Canada's up-and-coming basketball talent. Read Part 1 and 2 here.
Montaque Gill-Caesar admits it can be frustrating.
There are certain expectations that come along with being compared, fairly or unfairly, to the player many have pegged to be the no. 1 overall selection in the upcoming NBA draft.
Yet rather than putting any extra pressure on himself, the 18-year-old better known as “Teki” says he’s trying to use the comparison some have made between he and Canadian basketball phenom Andrew Wiggins as an extra source of motivation.
“It makes me work harder because people expect a lot of things from me so I don’t want to let anybody down,” Gill-Caesar said in recent interview. “But mostly I don’t want to let myself down because I know what I’m capable of and I know what I can be.”
From a young age – Gill-Caesar says he’s known Wiggins since he was in Grade 2 – the two Canadian hoopsters have followed similar paths. They both attended Glen Shields Elementary in Vaughan, Ont., a suburb just north of Toronto, then Vaughan Secondary School before pursuing a higher level of basketball competition at Huntington Prep, a program in West Virginia (Huntington Prep players attend St. Joseph Catholic High School) that’s become known for preparing players for the NCAA.
It was there that they both excelled, though at different times. Wiggins is a year older than Gill-Caesar and thus played a bigger role on the court when they were teammates during the 2012-2013 season. Yet when he and fellow Toronto native Xavier Rathan-Mayes, now with Florida State University, left for college, it was Gill-Caesar who took on a larger offensive role with Huntington. He went from averaging 10.4 points per game while shooting 49 percent from the floor in 2012-2013 to 16.3 points per game while shooting 54 percent from the floor this past season.
“Anybody who plays behind [Wiggins] and Xavier Rathan-Mayes is going to be the second option. [Montaque] handled it well and understood it was a very important part of his development,” said Elias Sbiet, Canadian national recruiting analyst at North Pole Hoops.
“He’s really evolved in terms of building a perimeter game for himself and now becoming a legitimate high-calibre Division I guard . . . He’s very versatile offensively so that’s what sets him apart.”
Playing alongside Wiggins at Huntington also gave Gill-Caesar the unique opportunity to go up against someone, who at the time was considered the best high school player in the United States, everyday in practice.
“It was amazing because it helped develop my game a lot on both ends of the floor,” Gill-Caesar, currently ranked by rivals.com as the 22nd best prospect in the 2015 NCAA class, said. “I had to work hard for my buckets and I had to work hard on defence because he’s a tough guy to guard. Going at him, his defence is amazing so it made it really difficult.”
It was also Wiggins who introduced him to CIA Bounce, the Brampton-based AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) team that’s helped develop Canadians like Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett and Tyler Ennis. (Check back to Yahoo Eh Game next week for more on the CIA Bounce program.)
“I went to one practice two or three years ago and it was amazing from the start and so I just wanted to stick with them,” he said. “When we’re all in the gym, we’re all competing and going at each other. That’s something that you want. We’re kind of building a basketball powerhouse up here in Canada so whenever all these guys are in the gym together you know you’re going to get a show because everybody has talent and everyone works hard and nobody backs down from anybody.”
While there was some speculation that Gill-Caesar, who’s received interest from a handful of NCAA schools including Indiana, Michigan State and Marquette, may reclassify for the 2014 class, he’s decided to return to Huntington for his senior season and hopes to work on his biggest weakness: “staying consistent and working hard on both ends of the floor.”
“I think I tend to take plays off sometimes and that’s a bad habit that I’ve developed,” he said. “I need to work on that. Just being mentally aware all the time of what’s going on [around me on the floor.]”
He’d like to help bring a national championship back to Huntington too, something nobody, not even Wiggins, has done before.