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VANCOUVER — Days after Cory Joseph signed with the Toronto Raptors, Drake celebrated the news by wearing Joseph’s jersey on the stage at his OVO Fest.
The Toronto rapper even mentioned him in a song.
But four days into Raptors training camp, the talk about Joseph being Canadian on Canada’s lone NBA squad has all but fizzled out. That’s because when Toronto signed the point guard to a four-year, $30 million deal, it was a basketball decision, with almost nothing to do with what passport he carries. The fact he was born in Toronto was a bonus.
Now the 24-year-old, who averaged 18 minutes a game with San Antonio last season as Tony Parker’s backup, is poised to grab a massive opportunity the Raptors are presenting.
“(His minutes should increase) just because of our needs and trying to keep the load off of Kyle a little bit, that will be huge,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “And also the opportunity to play those two together.”
Lowry shone for the first half of the season, earning a spot in the NBA all-star game. But he all but disappeared down the stretch.
“A lot of it was the wear-out factor, we rode him hard after DeMar (DeRozan) went down (with a serious groin injury), and his minutes ramped up, and with that came a lot of nicks and bumps and bangs throughout the year,” Casey said.
Joseph has improved in virtually every statistical column in each of his four years in the league since he was drafted by San Antonio — 29th overall — in 2011. It’s a point he takes great pride in.
“I feel I put a lot of time into working on my craft, work on my game, I think it goes hand in hand with opportunity, just working hard, staying ready,” said Joseph, who averaged 6.8 points and 2.4 assists a night last season while shooting a career-best 50.4 per cent from the field.
Playing for Canada’s national team over the summer, he said, helped him get ready for camp. The six-foot-three guard didn’t play at the Pan Am Games in Toronto, but sat courtside at the men’s final. He joined the team for the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament, and his buzzer-beater against Mexico assured Canada the bronze medal.
Joseph was thrilled when he signed in July with the team he grew up watching.
He announced the news on his Twitter account, writing “#WeTheNorth here I come!!!!!” He posted a picture himself on Instagram, pen and contract in hand, over the words “There’s no place like home #WeTheNorth.”
He promptly changed his jersey number to six, in recognition of Toronto’s area code, a reference made popular by Drake.
The Toronto rapper mentions Joseph in his song “Charged Up” — “I get a ring and I bring it home like I’m Cory Joe.”
Jamaal Magloire was the first Canadian to sign with the Raptors, playing one season before retiring. He remains a member of the Raptors’ staff.
But Joseph is the first Canadian player the Raptors have signed in their prime. The Raptors also acquired Toronto native Anthony Bennett last week.
Joseph, who took the Larry O’Brien Trophy — the NBA’s championship trophy — up Toronto’s CN Tower after the Spurs won it in 2014, admits it is cool to represent Canada on the squad.
“For sure, we’re the only team in Canada,” he said. “I’ve heard about the atmosphere. I’ve never experienced it but I hear the atmosphere in crazy.”
He added about teaming up with Bennett: “Two guys from Toronto, from Canada, we’re going to represent the city. We don’t only play for the Raptors and represent them in the NBA but for the national team, too, they see familiar faces.”
Joseph admits it still feels surreal being in camp with Toronto, although “it’s starting to settle down a little bit.
“I think it will feel more emotional when I put on that jersey and go out to play.”
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press
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