TORONTO — At about 1 Sunday afternoon, Orlando Magic players and coaches will array themselves in a line and will face the flags that hang from Air Canada Centre's ceiling.
First, the Magic will hear "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Then, "O Canada."
That might be the moment that sends shivers up and down Andrew Nicholson's spine. It will mean that the Magic's rookie power forward is home, playing basketball just a short drive from the city where he was born and raised.
"It'll be the first time I heard that during an NBA game," Nicholson said Saturday, after the Magic prepared for their game Sunday against the Toronto Raptors. "I'm proud to be Canadian."
Nicholson, 22, hails from Mississauga, Ontario, a city that borders Toronto.
At the start of this season, there were only eight Canadians on NBA rosters — and only six of them were born in Canada. So a rush of national pride could fill the arena when Nicholson enters today's game off the Magic bench.
"He's always said he was from Mississauga," said Amir Morgan, who was an assistant coach for Nicholson's high-school basketball team. "He knows where he's from, and he's proud of where he's from.
"It's a decent-sized city. There aren't great basketball players from Mississauga, but he's a guy who made it to the NBA, and everybody knows him in the city."
Although Nicholson didn't start playing basketball competitively until his junior year at Father Michael Goetz Catholic Secondary School, he attended plenty of Raptors games at Air Canada Centre.
Still, as a child, he played baseball, and he gave up the sport only when he outgrew his uniform and, more importantly, the strike zone.
He didn't envision himself as a future professional athlete, even after he took up basketball.
His mom, Colmaleen Nicholson, who works as an emergency-room trauma nurse, said Andrew eyed a career as a surgeon or a chemist — and even wanted to attend college in Canada and eventually go to medical school.
But she suggested he go to college in the United States because he could receive an athletic scholarship there.
He chose St. Bonaventure.
And after four years of college — four years in which he'd pack his summers with tough science classes to give himself a bit more time for basketball during the traditional school year — he graduated with a physics degree.
In June, the Magic selected him 19th overall in the NBA draft.
"His thing was to have a balance," Colmaleen said. "He had a basketball in one hand and his academics in the other hand."
He brings a similar sense of balance to the basketball court. His go-to shot is a hook that he can take with either hand, but he also has a nice touch from 15 to 18 feet. So far with the Magic, he's averaging 5.9 points in 11.6 minutes per game.
"The fact that he started playing late excites me, because he has a lot of growth, a lot of concepts that he hasn't been introduced to," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. "In my opinion, he's scratching the surface of the things he'll be able to do on the basketball court once he is physically stronger."
Vaughn already feels comfortable playing Nicholson for extended minutes.
That's a good thing for Sunday's game.
Nicholson's mom said that about 150 people from his high school will attend, in addition to family and friends.
"Even though the Raptors are playing, they're going to be there for Andrew," she said.
He has plenty of fans in Ontario.
Like them, he is a proud Canadian.
He just happens to play in the NBA.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times