Before the conference tournament in his senior year at Baylor, Wainright gave everyone on the team a letter. In it, he outlined how much his four years had meant to him and how important it was for the players who would follow him to continue being great teammates. Wainright had a hand in helping head coach Scott Drew define and refine what Baylor’s culture looked like, and he wanted to make sure the locker room was in good hands.
“He always brings people together,” Drew said. “Everybody likes him, he’s really charismatic, and he does all the dirty things that it takes to win, so people love playing with him. He’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever coached. What goes into that, when you get those special guys like Ish, they’ve poured into the guys that follow them.”
He would not be far. Instead of turning pro, Wainright used his fifth year of NCAA eligibility to join Baylor’s football program.
That necessitated adding additional weight. Already large for a basketball player, in the weight room, Wainright was able to bulk up to 265 pounds. That made him a natural when it came to the blocking responsibilities of a tight end.
“We were like, ‘Look, if (basketball) is going to be there, you’re going to have the opportunity to do that, just come out and give this a shot,’” said Joey McGuire, then the tight ends coach and now the associate head coach. “He’s such a good athlete. He’s such a tough guy. I mean, he’s just such a tough, mentally tough, physically tough player in basketball and football. And so I think it intrigued him. He came out, he played really well, and then he got sick. He missed a couple of games and came back and finished the year off strong with us.”
Wainright played nine games around a bout of mono, hauling in four catches for 34 yards and two touchdowns. He showed enough to earn an invite to a rookie minicamp with the Buffalo Bills that offseason, a weekend-long experience that he appreciates but closed the book on his football career.
“I stepped out of my comfort zone. I believed in myself,” Wainright said. “I thought I was gonna make the team, the practice squad. I tried it. I gave it my all. But I didn’t look back. It was one door closed, another door opened, and I haven’t looked back. And now I’m here a couple years later.”
Like on the basketball court, Wainright’s impact on Baylor football went far beyond statistics.
“He was a leader from the get-go,” McGuire said. “He was learning a lot, but he was really a quick learner. One reason, because he was a physical kid. He didn’t back away from anything, so you could teach him and he could handle a lot. So that was good. But leadership-wise, he came in from Day 1 and helped us. He’s just such an incredible person. He’s got an infectious personality. He is such a coachable young man. Those guys are easy to be in the room with.”
Wainright remained in contact with the basketball team. He would check in regularly and, later, get on the floor and practice when football ended. That was a way to give back. It was also a way of getting back into basketball shape and returning to his ideal playing weight of 235 pounds ahead of his first try at professional basketball.
He said the basketball skill came back “like riding a bike.” So, too, did that natural inclination to lead.
“Back then I was a walk-on, you know, didn’t know anybody, kind of was struggling with my game at the time,” said Freddie Gillespie, now Wainright’s teammate with the Raptors who joined Baylor during Wainright’s football season. “He was a positive dude. He’s really mature. He would just talk to me, all of us, really, keep encouraging, keep going, different things like that. He’s just really a true leader.”
Mykhailiuk has three years of experience under his belt, split between the Los Angeles Lakers, Detroit Pistons and the Thunder. Last season he played in 66 games between the Pistons and the Thunder, averaging 8.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists on 41/33/76 shooting splits.
Originally from the Ukraine, Mykhailiuk was drafted in the second round in 2017 by the Lakers.
With the Raptors, if Mykhailiuk can ratchet up his shotmaking (he’s a career 36% shooter from deep), he may well find a role on a team that is lacking in high volume shooting and shot creation. He’ll be battling in camp with the likes of Yuta Watanabe, Ish Wainwright, Sam Dekker and Isaac Bonga for one of the deep rotation spots, but given that Pascal Siakam will miss the start of the season, there’s plenty of room for someone to step and make an impact.
Defensively, though, it’s hard to see Mykhailiuk finding favour with head coach Nick Nurse, who expects a lot from his players on that end. Although Mykhailiuk has decent size and a good set of shoulders, he doesn’t have the length that the Raptors seem to prize.
So once again, it’s another project for the Raptors’ vaunted player development staff. We’ll see if they can help Mykhailiuk take his game to the next level.
Figuring out the starting centre is an easier task than figuring out the fifth starter. The Raptors are down one Kyle Lowry, creating a pretty big hole in their backcourt. There are a few ways they could go with that.
The easiest might be to slot Goran Dragic there. He remains a solid, steady hand capable of adding some scoring and playmaking, with an underrated shot from the corners. This would be a vote for stability, as Dragic seems the most capable to slide right into a high-floor, lower-ceiling fourth-starter dynamic alongside the three holdovers and a centre. At the same time, I like the idea of Dragic playing the sort-of Delon Wright to Malachi Flynn’s Fred VanVleet in the second unit, working as an on-the-fly mentor as Flynn continues to develop as an on-court leader.
Flynn also would be an option. The Raptors’ roster-building suggests that they may want to move away from playing two small point guards together for heavy minutes, so while Flynn will still see ample time with VanVleet, it might make more sense to have him come off the bench. Mostly, this seems like the logical progression for Flynn: Spend a rookie year fitting in where you can, spend a sophomore year taking ownership of your own unit and see where you’re at in Year 3. A backup role doesn’t preclude him from big minutes or closing opportunities.
If Flynn and Dragic both have good arguments as second-unit pieces, Gary Trent Jr. then emerges as the most obvious starting candidate. Similar to Norman Powell before him, Trent has the type of game that should slot in well starting or coming off the bench. Off the bench, he’d offer spacing in a C.J. Miles type of role for a unit that will need it. As a starter, he’d be the fourth option and should get a steady diet of corner 3s while being able to guard a lesser perimeter threat. The starters could almost certainly use that additional level of outside shot-making, so it becomes a question of maximizing Trent’s utility right now and/or finding him opportunities to expand his game in less starter-heavy lineups. Any improvement as a passer would also make a pretty big difference.
The other path would be to go big. Scottie Barnes has enough skills where he, Anunoby and Siakam across the two-three-four spots might be able to account for the lack of traditional guard play in such a lineup. Spacing would be at a serious premium, but they would be hellacious to try to score against with so much size, switchability and general defensive quality. You could find a path to Chris Boucher starting in a larger lineup, too, though I think his best role is probably as a higher-usage bench scorer.