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NBA Draft 2019

NBA Draft 2019: Nickeil Alexander-Walker knows he belongs in the NBA — now it's time to prove it

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Nickeil Alexander-Walker [Getty Images]

Toronto-native and potential 2019 NBA Draft lottery pick Nickeil Alexander-Walker - a combo guard from Virginia Tech - had just finished up his first pre-draft workout for the Charlotte Hornets the day after the Toronto Raptors hosted their first NBA Finals game in franchise history.

It was a monumental night for not only the city but the entire country of Canada as they showed just how much the desire for basketball is growing in what has always been viewed as a hockey country.

It's still a hockey country and always will be - but the interest in basketball and level of talent coming out of the North has continued to increase from year-to-year.

Alexander-Walker is set to be one of the next examples of that new wave of Candian Basketball players, and he glowed up at the opportunity to address what's going on with the sport in his homeland.

"It's a huge deal for Toronto Basketball," Alexander-Walker stated when asked about the significance of the Raptors playing in the NBA Finals. "Watching that game I was like 'man I wish I was home' just to see the city erupt."

His friends kept him in the loop, sending him videos and letting him know just how crazy everything has been with Canada hosting the NBA's biggest stage for the first time. The importance of the moment isn't lost on the draft prospect.

"Just seeing with what's happening with the city and how basketball is evolving from the players coming out of the Greater Toronto area and the Raptors doing so well... It's a great time to be alive.

"When you see what you're doing is starting to work, you learn. It's trial and error. Like technology and other stuff, it just gets better with time. You're starting to learn more, you're gaining more information because you're putting more guys in different situations."

Alexander-Walker is one of two Canadian draft prospects - along with R.J. Barrett - that is expected to be selected in the lottery of this year's NBA Draft.

He's a versatile 6'5 guard who's length and ability to both score and facilitate gives NBA teams the flexibility to play him at the 1 or 2. Along with that versatility is a 20-year old with the right attitude, who pressed on two keywords throughout - confidence and compete.

While playing basketball in Canada was once seen as a setback to some, Alexander-Walker attributes his high basketball IQ and mental toughness to his time spent grinding in the North before heading Stateside.

"When you're thinking the game and playing with confidence you can show your true ability. All the best players in today's league are confident, so confidence is the main thing.

"I'm a competitor... I'm gonna compete and also I'm confident in my game. My game allows me to do just that - switch onto guards or wings, guard the post, and that's gonna be the transition from college. Really working on my body."

Being paired with North Carolina guard Nassir Little, another player widely considered to be a lottery pick in this year's draft gave Walker-Alexander another opportunity to compete and impress.

"You get to prove yourself. You just gotta go at him and that's what you want. You want to be able to say that you went against the best and in order to be a lottery pick you wanna feel like you earned it and so today, I just went out there, competed and put it in God's hands."

Alexander-Walker has had some help from a mentor to keep his mind right throughout the draft process - his (barely) older cousin, LA Clippers guard and 2019 All-Rookie First Team selection, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

"I've used his knowledge, he's kind of like my brother. Just using his advice and gaining as much info as I can. He's told me to just have fun. To be you and be confident and compete hard. Don't think, just go out there, leave it on the floor and leave it in God's hands. You can't really control if you make shots or miss shots it's just about focusing on getting better and proving to the team who you are as a person or a player."

Gilgeous-Alexander, as a combo guard like his cousin, found immediate success in the NBA and is certainly one of the brighter up-and-coming Canada Basketball stars. Alexander-Walker is grateful to now be in the mix with this new wave of Canadian Basketball players.

"It's truly a blessing to be here, Glory to God. For me, it's been a tough route - I'm not really one of the guys who was seen to be here from my AAU team in the 9th grade. And now just to be here to be a part of that new wave, living out my dream, it's honestly a blessing."

When asked about which player of that 'new wave' he was most excited to compete against in the NBA, it was a no brainer, "Definitely Shai, because of all the family that would come out it would be a really cool setting."

But aside from Shai, after some thought, he couldn't pick just one, "Honestly everyone. Just competing and being another one of them, in a sense, and proving that I belong."

The next step for Alexander-Walker is the NBA Draft.

After that, the work to prove that he belongs in being mentioned alongside the growing pool of talented Canadians begins.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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