Home has its advantages.
For Oshae Brissett, being a Torontonian offered a serendipitous flight schedule. Leaving Las Vegas after five games with the Los Angeles Clippers at the 2019 Summer League, Brissett found himself on the same flight home as a number of members of the Toronto Raptors coaching staff and front office. When the plane landed back in Toronto, the 21-year-old wing was lined up at customs next to Nick Nurse, providing him with yet another opportunity to chat with a key Raptors figure.
As Brissett left the airport, a member of the Raptors front office told him to expect a call in the days that followed. The Raptors already liked Brissett, and four hours of getting to know him on a flight had only served to sell them even more. The next day, Brissett’s game of Fortnite was interrupted with a call from his agent, Mike George, telling him the Raptors were offering him a contract.
“It was just weird how everything came together, all of the coincidence,” Brissett said. “It’s just weird. But I’m happy to be here. This is where I want to be.”
Brissett didn’t hesitate. Born in Toronto and raised in the Jane and Finch area of the city and later in Mississauga, Brissett grew up a Raptors fan. There was a celebration with friends and family at his house in Mississauga when the Raptors won the NBA championship in June.
On the night of Game 5, Brissett was staying at the Delta Hotel adjacent to the Jurassic Park viewing area outside of Scotiabank Arena. The Raptors were bringing in Brissett for a pre-draft workout at OVO Athletic Centre the next morning, and Brissett spent the night oscillating between watching the game on his TV and listening to the crowd out his window.
“It was loud. It was crazy,” he said. “I was watching the people downstairs just go wild. You really didn’t get to see much but you could hear it. That’s all that mattered.”
The Raptors had been tracking Brissett dating back to the 2017 BioSteel All-Canadian Game, if not further, and weren’t turned off by his two somewhat underwhelming seasons at Syracuse. The Syracuse system can be difficult to extrapolate individual performance from thanks in part to its zone-heavy defence, and Brissett was one of 11 players to earn an invite to the NBA Draft Combine after a strong performance at the G League Elite Camp. A strong workout in Toronto allowed him to show off more ball skills than was advertised and he aced his interviews; it put him in the discussion for the Raptors at No. 59 in the 2019 draft.
The Raptors ultimately went with Dewan Hernandez, but when Brissett was still available following Summer League, they were intrigued.
“He’s got great size, athleticism, and a lot of markers that you’re looking for in big NBA wings,” said Raptors assistant general manager Dan Tolzman. “He showed enough interesting traits to where there might be something more than what he was able to show at Syracuse, for whatever reason, whether it was fit or style of play or whatever. It’s just something where some guys, you get them out of a different situation and put them in an NBA system with spacing, you look at guys through a little bit different of a lens. What can you pull out of ’em?”
The connection between player and team would only strengthen as the summer wore on. Shortly after the NBA championship, Nurse agreed to coach the Canadian senior men’s team and Brissett earned an invite to training camp. Initially considered a long shot, Brissett took quick advantage of the opportunity created by the absence of several key players.
It was during his time with Team Canada when Brissett’s summer really began to gain momentum. And while a minor knee injury would limit his participation with Canada to exhibition games only – he returned to Toronto instead of travelling to China for the World Cup – by then he had already left a mark with the Raptors’ staff.
“I think he’s got a great approach to the game,” said Jon Goodwillie, an assistant coach with the Raptors and Canada Basketball. “He really enjoys playing both sides of the ball and you can see that in his approach. He seems to enjoy the defensive side of the ball and he brings great length, rebounding, and shot-making as well. He’s got a good size and he brings a good level of activity and a good, positive approach to the game. And with Canada, he showed he can be a really good wing rebounder.”
Brissett rejoined the Raptors’ summer player development program from there and continued making strides. Multiple veteran Raptors have cited Brissett as a player who impressed them during 5-on-5 scrimmages. He also turned heads in an open practice at training camp and Nurse made sure to get a look at him alongside likely rotation players in all three of the team’s preseason games to date.
(Kevin Sousa / USA TODAY Sports)
“From the time that we had him working with the group workouts and his time with Canada, he’s made such strides,” Tolzman said. “From when we first signed him to where he is now, it’s promising knowing, ‘OK, I think we were on to something here with where he may be able to get to.'”
There is still plenty of development time ahead for Brissett. He’s just 21, with an offensive game that sometimes reveals his inexperience. Today he is mostly a transition threat and a play finisher who will need time to hone his perimeter game and, perhaps most importantly, his nascent 3-point shot. There is a small chance he cracks the Raptors’ roster, but his likeliest scenario is earning one of the team’s two-way roster spots, thereby allowing him to split time between the Raptors and the Raptors 905 of the G League to continue working on his game.
The building blocks Raptors 905 head coach Jama Mahlalela and staff will have to work from are enticing. Brissett is 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot wingspan. At the 2019 NBA Draft combine he owned the lowest body fat percentage and he’s since added seven pounds to what’s now a 210-pound frame to help him prepare for the rigours of either forward position. He’s an advanced rebounder for a 3 or 4, can put the ball on the floor and make the next pass within the offence with an uncanny knack for using his length to deflect passes.
In addition to the physical tools, the Raptors have also been sold on Brissett as a person and a teammate. He is a sponge around veterans, used the early exposure to Nurse’s system with Team Canada to his advantage and has largely stuck to the role asked of him when given playing time. The adjustment has been seamless, and Brissett’s explanation for why is a simple one.
“I feel extremely confident and comfortable right now,” he said. “Coach and the guys here have made basketball easy again, and fun. The culture that we have here and how much everyone wants to play and how much everyone wants to win, that’s what I like. That’s the type of environment I want to be in. Once I got to know the guys more and they got to know me and how I play, and I kinda earned a little bit of respect. It’s made it a lot easier.”
Calling Toronto home allowed Brissett to experience the Raptors’ championship in a unique way for someone who wasn’t on the team a year ago, but now finds themself competing for a roster spot with them. It put him on a fortuitous flight from Las Vegas and allowed him to develop an early relationship with Nurse. And following a summer of hard work and an impressive training camp, Brisset has likely put himself in a position to earn a two-way contract and become the fifth Canadian to make the Raptors’ opening night roster when the season tips off Oct. 22 at home vs. New Orleans.
“Man, it’s a dream come true. Even every day I come here, I put on the jersey, it’s wild, you know, seeing my name on the back of this jersey,” Brissett said. “I remember last game, on the scoreboard up there when we were doing the intros and I saw my face, and it was like, I mean, I know I’m here, but now it’s crazy, you know, that I was up there. It’s a blessing. It’s something that I still haven’t gotten over. Whatever happens, two-way or a roster spot or even anything else, I’m gonna be happy with the time that I spent here.”