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Van Koeverden, De Grasse among high profile athletes following Raptors run

Canadian Olympic kayaker Adam van Koeverden carries a kayak at the Burloak Canoe Club in Oakville, Ont. on Wednesday, June 13, 2012. Aboard a flight during a recent Toronto Raptors playoff game, Adam van Koeverden had to turn MacGyver to catch it. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Vincent Elkaim
May 25, 2016 - 8:24 AM

TORONTO - Aboard a flight during a recent Toronto Raptors playoff game, Adam van Koeverden had to turn MacGyver to catch it.

The WiFi was cutting in and out. The online stream wouldn't work. So the Olympic kayak champion FaceTimed a friend, who set up his cellphone in front of his television.

"My best trick this year," Van Koeverden said. "I go to all lengths to catch the Raptors."

Van Koeverden has squeezed in watching games between training and competitions on his final run-up to this summer's Rio Olympics. A trip home to Oakville, Ont., coincided with Saturday's 99-84 victory over Cleveland at the Air Canada Centre. So Van Koeverden was there, in a luxury box next to Canadian sprint sensation Andre De Grasse.

"I've been a fan of the Raptors since the Vince (Carter) days," said De Grasse, who's twice flown home to Toronto from his training base in Phoenix to watch playoff games. "It's amazing to see the team get this deep into the playoffs, and I would love to see the team make the finals, the energy in TO will be crazy."

The Raptors are just two wins away from the NBA finals and their historic run through the post-season has drawn stars along on the way.

Montreal Canadiens star P.K. Subban has become a regular fixture, including at road games in Indianapolis and Miami. NFL legend Terrell Owens has been courtside at the Air Canada Centre for several games, along with several members of the Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto FC.

Canadian tennis star Eugenie Bouchard brought up the Raptors in Tuesday's news conference at the French Open.

"As soon as I wake up it's the first thing I Google every morning. I watch highlights on the way to the courts," Bouchard said. "The atmosphere seemed amazing over there."

Justyn Warner, a member of Canada's 4x100 relay team that won bronze at the world championships, regularly checks the Raptors app for updates when he's not near a TV.

"I'll back the Raptors forever," said Warner, who trains with De Grasse in Phoenix. "LeBron (James) is one of my favourite players, but not over my home city. In the last few years, what (coach Dwane) Casey has done to this team has been incredible. (Kyle) Lowry plays with an immense amount of heart and I love that. He wants it for his team and the city."

Van Koeverden is also a Lowry fan.

"He's a bulldog, he ends up on his back half the time he goes to the net," he said of the Raptors' all-star guard. "He works so hard."

Warner and Van Koeverden both talked about how sports have put Toronto on the global map, with the Blue Jays' 2015 playoff run and last summer's Pan American Games.

"Toronto people have been starved for great sports successes," said Van Koeverden, who as the son of immigrant parents, calls himself part of a Canadian cohort that weren't raised as hockey fans.

"It's been just awesome. It's about time too, we're the fourth biggest city in North America."

Van Koeverden watched Raptors games over the winter months while training in Australia. Sunday night games aired on Monday mornings in Australia, when he was in the gym.

"I'd get all the Australian guys into it," he said.

Interest in the Raptors' playoff run is keen among Toronto FC players but loyalties are divided.

Defenders Justin Morrow (Cleveland) and Josh Williams (Copley) are Ohio natives and support the Cavaliers.

"I come in when they're winning and everyone else is upset," said Morrow, who growing up used to see Cavs' games with his father. "I come in today when they've lost and everyone else is happy. So it's a delicate situation.

"When the Raptors play anyone else, I'm a Raptors fan. But when they play against the Cavs, I'm a Cavs fan."

Defender Eriq Zavaleta, a native of Westfield, Ind., supports the Pacers whom the Raptors eliminated in the first round.

Zavaleta, Williams, goalkeeper Clint Irwin and forward Sebastian Giovinco were all at Game 4 to see Toronto down the Cavaliers and tied the series at 2-2.

"Incredible atmosphere," said Zavaleta, who says he is now rooting for Raptors.

"It was so loud in there, probably the loudest NBA game I've ever been to," said Irwin, a native of Charlotte. "I got home and my ears were hurting."

Morrow marvels at NBA athletes, calling them "atop the pyramid in the things they can do athletically."

"I don't think there's anyone that can compare to them in that sense. And the skill they have on top of that just makes it that much more intriguing to watch."

The six-foot-three Irwin is a major-league hoops fan who played on the same high school team in Charlotte as Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry.

"The stuff that you see him doing now, he's been doing it since he started playing in middle-school," Irwin said of Curry. "I'm never really surprised at the stuff that he does. I'm still in awe of it, but he's just an amazing player."

Irwin is pulling for the Raptors "because I want to see the finals here. I think it would be awesome."

Morrow says supporting Cleveland comes at a cost.

"I think I got crap from a delivery man today. I didn't even know who he was but somehow he found out I was a Cleveland Cavs fan and had to let me know that Toronto was going to win the series."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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