Since he was eight years old, shooting baskets at the Keele Public School playground in Toronto, Leo Rautins dreamed of playing in the National Basketball Association. Last week the 23-year-old realized his dream. In the annual NBA draft, Rautins became the first Canadian ever selected in the first round.
“I’ve been waiting for this a long, long time,” said Rautins. Now all he has to do is earn a spot on the NBA champion Philadelphia ’76ers, a squad that includes the league’s Most Valuable Player, Moses Malone, and the irrepressible “Dr. J.,” Julius Erving. Eventually, Rautins hopes to win Erving’s spot.
The Sixers sought Rautins, at sixfoot-eight and 215 lb., as a “small forward.” “He’ll fit in nicely with our club,” said Philadelphia General Manager Pat Williams. Rautins, for his part, is optimistic. “I’m going to be playing with great players and I’ll have an opportunity to learn,” he said.
Rautins was touted by the Sixers because of his reputation as a good shooter and an exceptional passer. In his senior year at Syracuse University, Rautins led the Orangemen to a berth in the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship tournament after averaging 14 points, seven rebounds and six assists per game during the regular season. As the 17th pick in the draft, Rautins can expect a multiyear contract for $150,000 to $300,000 per year.
Rautins was not the only Canadian chosen in the first round of the draft. Stewart Granger, who was born in Montreal and played with Rautins on the Canadian national team under coach Jack Donohue, was the 24th and last pick in the opening round. He went to the hapless Cleveland Cavaliers after a brilliant career at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. Granger, however, has not lived in Canada since his family moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., when he was seven years old.
Donohue was very proud. “Today’s a great day for me,” he said from Alberta, where the national team was tuning up for the World University Games in Edmonton. “Something like this has to boost basketball in Canada. The only thing that could be better would be an NBA franchise in Canada.”
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