It's all fun and games for Stauskas

Ask him about James exiting the court after the game, making eye contact with Stauskas, taking off his game-worn shoe and throwing it right to him.

Then, ask him how -- with what was possibly the most important pass of his life -- he dropped it.

"I was devastated," Stauskas said.

The shoe bobbled off his hands and eventually was grabbed by someone a row or two behind him.

"To this day he cries about that," Ruta said. "He said he would've slept with it."

He's considered the Wolverines' resident NBA junkie. He has been obsessed with the league since he was young.

To Nik as a child, it was a fantasy. These guys get to play hoops all day, every day, and make a living off it.

He wanted to do that someday, make those shots, play with those guys. Ruta and Paul would smile when he talked about his NBA dreams -- and then they'd bring him back to earth.

"You need to recognize that so many kids have that same goal and so few make it," Ruta would tell him. "Just realize, in the back of your mind, if it comes, that's wonderful and if it doesn't, it's not the end of the world.

"There's life beyond that."

With that in mind, Stauskas kept with it. The NBA would be his Plan A and his parents were more than supportive. But, if that were his Plan A, he needed to concede that someday hoops might no longer be a possibility and come up with a Plan B, one that he could be just as happy with.

But Plan B was hard to keep in perspective when he watched James play.

For James, it was never about just hoops. James and so many other players didn't or don't have the luxury to look at the game as anything other than Plan A. Stauskas knows this, and knows he's fortunate to be afforded more than one plan.

He hasn't needed hoops to get out of his situation or to leave his neighborhood. His and his family's futures aren't riding on his basketball career.

And because of that, Stauskas is able to do this for fun. He's able to look at it as just hoops. He's able to see it not as life, but as a part of life.

"He looks at the big picture, life in general," Ruta said. "If you lose a game or have a poor game, what's it going to do? Has somebody died? Has somebody's health deteriorated? Has some horrible thing happened in the world? No. We've always talked about things being in perspective."


If it was his parents who gave him perspective, it was his best friends who kept him grounded in it.

If you were sitting courtside at Barclays Center for the West Virginia-Michigan game last season and thought it odd that two Michigan fans were heckling Stauskas, just consider it an introduction to two of the people who know Stauskas best.

Yes, the two guys shouting "Go back to Canada!" every time Stauskas touched the ball are his best friends, Andreas Valhouli-Farb and Harrison Prins.

The three met at St. Mark's School in 2011, a year after Stauskas had moved away from his parents. Stauskas never had a group of friends as close as they would become, and Valhouli-Farb and Prins -- though they had known other athletes who had transferred to the prep school outside of Boston -- had never known an athlete who could be just as happy without his sport.

"It's just basketball," Valhouli-Farb said. "Yes, it's the thing he loves to do the most, but it's just basketball."

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