VICTORIA — Toronto Raptors fans in Victoria got the first glimpse of rookie OG Anunoby.
Anunoby, who underwent surgery in January to repair a torn ACL, was a surprise addition to Thursday night's open scrimmage at the University of Victoria. The Raptors had been tight-lipped about the 20-year-old's potential return, and speculation had pegged him to make his debut in November. But wearing No. 3, his preferred short shorts, and a brace around his right knee, Anunoby looked comfortable driving and cutting in his 16 minutes of action.
"He's coming, he's still a ways away, but this is good conditioning for him, get the rust off," said coach Dwane Casey. "He hasn't played in full-speed competition in awhile. We understood and knew the rust he was going to have on his wheels, but I really like the way he played, his instinctive plays that he made.
"Like I told him 'it doesn't matter what you look like right now, we just want to get the rust off."
The Raptors believe they got one of the biggest steals, and one of the most versatile defenders, of this year's draft when they selected Anunoby 23rd overall. The six-foot-eight, athletic combo forward averaged 11.1 points and 5.4 rebounds in his sophomore season at Indiana, but his college career was cut short when he tore his ACL.
"I felt good," Anunoby said. "Just getting reps, just playing, getting used to being back on the floor. I was feeling good at practice the last week so I thought I should play."
Thursday night's intrasquad game drew a capacity crowd of 2,700 to UVIC's gymnasium, with a couple of hundred fans showing up three hours early to nab one of the standing-room spots.
On a night that featured several impressive performances, Kyle Lowry's black team beat DeMar DeRozan's grey team 89-63. Had there been an MVP award, it would have gone to Norm Powell or Canadian Kyle Wiltjer. Powell had 17 points for Team Black, and in one thrilling stretch sliced through the defence for a dunk, then followed it up with a buzzer-beating three-pointer.
The sharp-shooting Wiltjer drained five three-pointers in a 17-point performance for the grey side.
"Yeah I told you guys that's what I try to do every day," Wiltjer said on his long-range shooting. "It was really fun, coming out here. I had no idea what to expect, being in Victoria and having a packed house. It was a really fun event for us."
Wiltjer's dad Greg starred for the University of Victoria.
"It was a really cool experience for me, every time I scored I looked over and my grandpa was here, he hasn't seen me play in seven or eight years," Wiltjer said. "It's just really cool to be back here, and it's pretty amazing to come full circle, actually playing here in Victoria."
Casey addressed the crowd — dotted with dozens of red Raptors jerseys and even the odd teal Vancouver Grizzlies jersey — prior to tipoff.
"These players worked hard all summer to make you proud," Casey said. "We're so honoured to have the western coast of Canada behind us the way you are."
The fans ushered the team off the court with a standing ovation. DeRozan took off his shoes, and one by one, tossed them high up into the crowd.
The Raptors were making their training camp debut in Victoria, after three consecutive years at the Fortius Centre in Burnaby, B.C. Canada's lone NBA franchise has held camp in numerous cities across the country as its looks to reach fans outside of Toronto. The Raptors held a kids camp and coaches clinic as part of their activities in Victoria.
They'll practise once more on Friday before flying to Honolulu for a pair of exhibition games, Sunday and Tuesday versus the Los Angeles Clippers.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press