Brady Heslip's life in basketball began in the Toronto suburb of Burlington but the journey to his shot at the roster of the Toronto Raptors has been a long one.
From the start, Heslip was a great shooter – especially three pointers. But he wasn't tall or quick so coming out of high school he didn't even secure a spot on a college team. When he eventually found a place at Baylor University, he made make his name as a shooter. Still, listed at 6-foot-2, he went undrafted by the NBA.
He attended a Minnesota Timberwolves training camp but there was no opening. He then briefly lit up the NBA Development League before heading to Europe for several years.
Then the Raptors came calling.
This season, Heslip, 26, has his first real chance – and likely his last best shot – at scoring a position on an NBA roster. At the Toronto Raptors training camp, most of the roster is set, save for the 15th and final spot. It would have been taken by guard Delon Wright, but he's recovering from shoulder surgery. So there's an opening, for the next several months at least. Heslip is one of two players in contention, the other being 22-year-old rookie Fred VanVleet.
For Heslip, it's about chasing a dream, the NBA, and doing it with his hometown team. He could have made more money going back to Europe. But when the opportunity to sign with the Raptors arose – even if it was more likely to play for the D-League Raptors 905 team rather than the actual Raptors – Heslip jumped at it.
"After this, there's rare cases when guys come over [from Europe] when they're older," Heslip said after practice on Wednesday. "It'll never be over till it's over, but this is obviously the most prime time for me to do it."
The challenge is to prove himself as a point guard, which is what VanVleet is, and the Raptors are looking for in the absence of Wright. Heslip has played point guard before but is more naturally a shooting guard, even though he has a point guard's height, noted by Raptors coach Dwane Casey.
That Heslip is a lights-out shooter is not in question. In his one D-League stint, with Reno in 2014, he shot 44 per cent and set a single-game record with 13 threes. Casey said Heslip is so good from three that when he sets up for an open look it's "almost like a layup."
"I love the way he shoots the basketball," Casey said.
But the opportunity is at point guard, bringing the ball up the floor, initiating the offence, defending opposing point guards, handling ball screens.
Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph, Toronto's primary point guards, both praised Heslip's shooting. Of VanVleet, Lowry and Joseph both cited his play as a point guard.
VanVleet played four years at Wichita State University and as a freshman helped lead the team to the NCAA final four. He is six feet tall and went undrafted in June. He played well for the Raptors at NBA Summer League and has worked consistently with the team since.
"I feel confident in my skills and abilities," VanVleet said.
Beyond the opening-night roster, for both VanVleet and Heslip, time in the D-League looks likely – and the jump to secure a real hold in the NBA looks like a big one.
"From the outside, it seems like me versus somebody else for the spot but in reality me and him don't even match up that much," VanVleet said. "Management makes the call, rather than me and him playing one on one and whoever loses loses. It's showing what you can do, within the team scheme."