By: Holly MacKenzie
TORONTO, Ont. (April 17, 2020) – Six weeks ago, Oshae Brissett was on the Scotiabank Arena court as the Toronto Raptors closed out a 127-81 victory over the Indiana Pacers. In his first NBA season, the Toronto native is on a two-way contract with the Raptors. Though the NBA season has been upended because of the coronavirus pandemic, whatever happens with the season from here, Brissett has made the most of his rookie year.
Brissett’s journey to the Raptors began early last summer, when he was signed by the team in July. At the same time, he was spending his summer suiting up for the Canadian Senior Men’s National Team. As a result, he entered training camp with the Raptors having already established a relationship with Toronto’s head coach Nick Nurse.
“It’s been amazing,” Brissett said. “Getting to learn [Nurse] as a person off the court and kind of how he coaches on the court before even having to prove myself here, I feel like I kind of got the upper hand learning about him and all of the other coaches there, too. We built a different relationship [with Team Canada] and it’s carried on to now.”
The Raptors converted Brissett’s contract into a two-way contract on Oct. 21, ensuring that he would spend time between the Raptors and NBA G League affiliate team, Raptors 905, this season. Even during his time with 905, he has been learning more about Nurse and his coaching style.
“The coaches with the 905, they know exactly how Coach Nurse wants to play and even how the front office wants to run the program,” he said. “They run it the same way with the tools that we’re given.”
It can be a challenge shifting back and forth between the NBA G League and the NBA depending on the day and team schedule. However, Brissett credits Toronto’s management with helping to simplify the process. Time spent with the 905 serves as a continuation of time spent with Nurse and the Raptors thanks to the collaboration between the two teams. At Raptors 905 home games in Mississauga it’s common to see Raptors players as well as Nurse or members of his Raptors coaching staff sitting courtside, supporting Brissett and the other members of 905.
“I feel like from top to bottom the coaching staff does a great job of making Raptors 905 like it is here [with the Raptors],” Brissett said. “I've talked to a couple of other guys around the league who are on two-ways and they do say it’s a lot different. Even if we’re not active or playing [with the Raptors], we’re still around the guys, still learning, watching film, picking up things. I feel like it’s really benefitted me a lot and I’m playing a lot better because of it.”
Much has been made of the success the Raptors have had with Raptors 905. Before Brissett, it was Canadian Chris Boucher shuffling between Toronto and Mississauga last season as he was named NBA G League Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year prior to winning an NBA Championship with the Raptors. Before Boucher, it was Raptors All-Star Pascal Siakam winning NBA G League Finals MVP, while Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell have also spent time in Mississauga.
“Chris was in my shoes last year and he says to always stay ready, that [Nurse] is that type of guy that he’ll call on you whenever,” Brissett said. “That’s kind of [the mindset] I was going in with, just knowing what I can do on the court. I’m not trying to do too much when I’m out there with the guys because we have a defensive game plan, offensive game plan. I’ve got to stick to that, stick to my role. As the years go on, then I’ll develop my role more.”
Six weeks ago, with a six-game road trip on the horizon -- the same road trip that would end with the Raptors facing the Utah Jazz two days before centre Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 and the NBA’s season was postponed -- Brissett was discussing the differences between NBA basketball and college basketball. Though he has impressed Raptors coaches and teammates by providing a spark off the bench whenever his name has been called, Brissett has focused on the defensive end of the floor since making the jump to the NBA.
“Last year I was at Syracuse, it was a lot of different basketball, we stayed in zone all year, now we’re playing man,” Brissett said. ”I'm really proud of myself that I was able to focus on the way Coach wants to play defence and how serious the guys take it. You don't want to go in there and mess up a defensive rotation. I was proud of that and want to keep doing that the rest of the season.”
Rest assured that while the league is currently postponed, Brissett will be spending his downtime staying in shape and working on improving his game -- in addition to hopping on TikTok to impersonate his Raptors teammates.
Though he’s only in his first NBA season, Brissett is doing his part in his own time to ensure that this is the first of many. “You have to stay on top of what you have to do when [you’re not going in to practice],” he said. “Stay on top of it when I'm home, stretching, drinking lots of water, eating right. Those are things I have to do.”
Coming to his hometown Raptors in his rookie season in the year after the organization won the first NBA Championship in franchise history was special. Brissett hasn’t taken this opportunity to learn from his teammates for granted.
“You can just see by the way they carry themselves, [they have that championship DNA],” Brissett said. “A bunch of guys who played big minutes last year, who are still playing big minutes, are always coming in early and staying late so there’s no reason why I should be ever late or be the first one to leave the gym.
Though basketball is on hold for the time being, the work (from home), continues for Brissett.
“Watching [my teammates this season], and knowing that they know what it takes to win a championship, it makes me want to try even harder, just to get closer to that level, even now.”