Nova Scotian basketball stars to face off in NBA G-League bubble
HALIFAX -- A pair of young Nova Scotian basketball stars will be facing off on the hardwood on Thursday night, more than 3,000 kilometres from home.
Bedford’s Nate Darling and Dartmouth’s Lindell Wigginton are both playing in the NBA G-League bubble in Orlando, Florida.
Both players have had a long journey to find themselves just a step away from living their dreams and becoming the first Nova Scotian to appear in an NBA regular season game.
“We played for the Community Y when we were younger, like Mini, Junior Mini, and we were really close. We used to stay at each others houses and things like that,” says Lindell Wigginton, a 22-year-old guard for the Iowa Wolves.
From teammates at Halifax’s Community Y, to opponents at Disney World, Wigginton and Darling have crossed paths many times during their basketball journeys.
“When we were 10, 11, 12, people used to come out and watch us go at it, we’ve always kind of been the top guys at our age group, and for us to both be here in this moment is great,” says Nate Darling, a 22-year-old guard with the Greensboro Swarm.
While the game has taken them all over the world, including teaming up to win a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2017 U19 World Championships in Egypt, Darling and Wigginton both maintain strong connections to home, and share a respect for each other that will be on display when the two match-up on Thursday.
“We started training with each other over the past couple summers, and just building that bond together, we also played with Team Canada together, so him and I are pretty close, and it’s just amazing that two guys from the same province, little Nova Scotia, it’s on the rise,” says Darling.
After going undrafted in November, Darling signed to a two-way deal with the Charlotte Hornets, the NBA franchise owned by the legendary Michael Jordan. He spent more than two months with the Hornets, before being assigned to their G-League affiliate in Greensboro.
“It’s been great, learning from the best and playing at this high level, it’s been an adjustment for me for sure, but I feel like I’m adjusting pretty well to it.”
Through the Swarm’s first three games, Darling is averaging 9.3 points in 21.9 minutes per game. He showed what he could do when he scored 14 points in a four-minute span in a Feb. 12 loss to the Canton Charge.
“It felt really good to get hot there for a second, just being out there playing basketball. I miss that feeling, all the training and everything like that is great, but there’s nothing better than getting out there and competing up against someone else and just letting your body takeover,” says Darling.
Wigginton is in his second season with the Iowa Wolves, after a standout two years at Iowa State University. He says the pandemic created a lot of uncertainty in his career, but he stayed ready.
“You had to wait and see which league was going to start, which team you were going to play for, so it was kind of a waiting game, but I just stayed in the gym and made sure I was ready at any given moment for when my name was called,” says Wigginton, who is averaging 14.4 points and 4.2 assists through the Wolves first five games,
Another challenge has been adapting to life in a bubble – 18 teams are participating at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, playing 15 games in just 26 days, with daily testing and a whole lot of free time.
“Having to come off a court and put a mask on, when you’re breathing heavy you want to get as much air as you in possible,” says Darling. “Not being able to shake hands with the teams, not hanging out with each other as much as possible, keeping our distance, and getting tested everyday. The basketball camaraderie is a little bit different and that’s kind of what I love about basketball, that team feeling and stuff, so it’s a bit of an adjustment, but we’re out here playing basketball so I can’t really complain.”
“We don’t really have a lot of shootaround time, because with all the teams in one location, they can’t all get in the gym at once,” adds Wigginton.
With their dream of becoming the first Nova Scotians to play a regular season game in the NBA just a call away, both players have some words of inspiration for youth dreaming of following in their footsteps.
“It’s just having that mindset, to go out there, wherever you’re playing and to be the best, and I think we’re both really confident and believe we can go out there and do whatever’s possible,” says Wigginton
“If you ask him, I’m pretty sure he thought he was going to be there, and if you asked me, I knew I was going to be there,” says Darling. “I think from a young age we both had that edge to us that, one, we wanted to make it, and two, we were going to put in the work to get there, so I think it’s that simple recipe.”
A simple recipe of confidence and hard work, that has two Nova Scotians just a step away from realizing their NBA dream.
The Swarm and Wolves tip off Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. Atlantic