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Taking Aim: Canada's Brady Heslip hoping to land spot with Toronto Raptors

Baylor guard Brady Heslip, left, and Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim (3) chase a loose ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the final of the Big 12 Conference men's tournament in Kansas City, Mo., Saturday, March 15, 2014. Heslip is hoping to land a spot with the Toronto Raptors. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Orlin Wagner
September 29, 2016 - 12:20 PM

BURNABY, B.C. - It's near the end of a practice at Toronto Raptors' training camp and like most of the team, Brady Heslip is working on his shot.

He steps behind the three-point line and drains one with ease, then makes two more.

A hand in his face from a Toronto assistant to serve as a distraction? No problem. A tough pass and a quick release? Got it.

"Brady's a shooter," said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. "I love the way he shoots the basketball."

There's no doubting Heslip's deadly accuracy from his time in both college and the pros — he buried a record 13 threes in an NBA D-League contest back in 2014. But it's the other parts of his game that will mostly determine the Canadian's fate with the club he cheered for as a kid.

"Defend. That's the No. 1 thing," Casey said of what he wants to see from Heslip. "He's one of our best shooters that we have right now. I'm sure Kyle (Lowry) would argue that, but it's almost like a layup for him, a three-point shot.

"He's done it for a while. He's a proven shooter."

While Heslip might be a proven shooter, it hasn't translated into an NBA job up to this point.

He went undrafted following three seasons at Baylor University but got a tryout with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2014. Heslip didn't survive training camp and wound up in the D-League for a brief time.

From there he would spend the next year-and-a-half playing in Europe before the Raptors acquired his rights and signed him last week.

"When my agent told me they were interested and this could be a possibility, I just made it my No. 1 priority," said the 26-year-old from Burlington, Ont., a city roughly 60 kilometres west of Toronto. "It was the only thing I wanted to have happen."

Heslip said getting part of his contract guaranteed should he get bumped to the D-League was critical in luring him back across the Atlantic. He has watched from afar as the Raptors have grown in popularity, with last season's run to the Eastern Conference final a high point.

"A few things had to fall into place," he said. "I'm just grateful everything worked out and that I'm getting this opportunity."

Apart from his defence, the Raptors want to find out if the six-foot-two, 185-pound Heslip can run the offence. He's been a shooting guard the majority of his career, but there's an opening at the point behind Lowry and Cory Joseph with Delon Wright out until at least December with a shoulder injury.

"It's something I like doing and I can do," Heslip said of running the point. "It helps I can play off the ball and knock down shots and space the floor."

Like any training camp, there are other players looking to take their chance. For all the praise Casey has for Heslip in the battle for the 15th spot on the roster, he seems equally high on Fred VanVleet, an undrafted natural point guard out of Wichita State who signed a multi-year deal after an impressive Summer League showing.

"The moment isn't too big for either one of them," said Casey. "I like both of them, because both of them are right now showing they belong in the NBA."

The nephew of former Raptors coach Jay Triano, Heslip shot 44.5 per cent from three-point range for his Italian club team last season and was accurate 46.5 per cent of the time in his final year of college.

He focused on getting stronger in the off-season and understands what he needs to do, especially on the defensive end, to show he belongs in Toronto.

"The last couple years just helped me become more professional and (better) understand how (the game) works," said Heslip, who concedes this could be his last best shot at the NBA. "I learned just to embrace a role and do whatever the coaches or whatever the team asks of you."

But when talking about Heslip, the conversation always seems to go back to his sweet stroke.

"Brady's a lights-out shooter, that's what he does," said Joseph, a Toronto native and Heslip's teammate with Canada. "You give him a basketball anywhere behind that three-point line, he's going to knock it down."

Heslip is hoping he gets the chance to do that in his own backyard.

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News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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