FORT MYERS, Fla. — Montaque Gill-Caesar always gets a kick out of reporters’ reactions when they ask about his thoughts on comparisons between him and his Huntington (W.Va.) Prep teammate Andrew Wiggins, the consensus No. 1 player in the country.
Both play on the wing and hail from Canada. Both have explosive athleticism and accurate jump shots. But naturally, being the older, more experienced player, Wiggins does everything better.
That’s why on a November afternoon, following the Express’ win over Quality Education Academy (Winston Salem, N.C.) in the Charlotte Hoops Challenge, the small sea of reporters talking to Gill-Caesar in a back hallway of the gym looked a bit perplexed. Gill-Caesar, who had just been named MVP of the game, didn't downplay the comparisons to Wiggins, who is projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft by every major draft board. Rather, he embraced them.
“I think people expect me to shoot that down and say ‘no I’m not that good,” said Gill-Caesar, a sophomore. “But I’m not gonna say that. I’m definitely not him, but I’m trying to get to where he’s at so my mindset is to keep working toward that. I love a challenge.”
Gill-Caesar, or “Teki” as he’s more commonly known, will get that tonight when the Express face off against Homeschool Christian (Houston) at 7 p.m. in the City of Palms Classic.
“Teki is the next big thing, no question about it,” said Wiggins, a senior. “He’s 6-foot-5 and growing and he’s talented. I’m telling you he’s definitely going to be the guy. Trust me, I’ve known him forever.”
Gill-Caesar and Wiggins grew up in Ontario and attended Glen Shields Elementary together. The pair spent last summer together playing for the same AAU program, CIA Bounce (Canada). That’s when Wiggins started to talk to Gill-Caesar about coming to play in the U.S.
“He would always tell me about how good the competition is over here and I love competition,” Gill-Caesar said. “Finally, I decided to come over and play with him after I had a strong summer.”
In his first season playing against American players, Gill-Caesar averaged 20 points per game for CIA Bounce’s 15-and-under squad.
The biggest difference between the American and Canadian game?
“The Americans are way more athletic,” Gill-Caesar said. “They’re more talented too. I know that I played well last summer, but it definitely showed me that I had a lot more to work on to get where I want to be.”
That’s what made Huntington Prep the ideal destination for Gill-Caesar.
The Express post one of the most talented lineups in the country with Wiggins, Florida State signee Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Baylor signee Dominic Woodson and Arkansas signee Moses Kingsley.
“We don’t need him to score 20 or 30 points for us to win,” Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford said. “He can work on the things he needs to work on and get better. Teki being here has also helped Andrew because they go at it. That’s made both of them better. Teki has all the tools to be a special player, that’s obvious.”
Gill-Caesar already has offers from Ohio State, South Florida, West Virginia and Baylor, and has already visited Kentucky. So far this season, Gill-Caesar is putting up 13 points and seven rebounds a game while shooting 48 percent from the 3-point line.
“He’s a kid that looks to attack the rim and he’s a capable 3-point shooter,” ESPN recruiting director Paul Biancardi said of Gill-Caesar. “He’s somewhat raw and he’s got things to work on, but the talent is there for sure. It can’t hurt to go head-to-head against Wiggins every day.”
Still, Wiggins is quick to point out that their relationship is far from teacher-student.
“We push each other and we go at each other,” Wiggins said. “I don’t look at him as a guy I’m teaching. I can’t do that because he’s that good. I’ve got to worry about what I’m doing and we both learn and grow from that experience.”
As for the comparisons to Wiggins, Gill-Caesar said he’s not limiting himself, even if Dime Magazine named Wiggins one of the 10 people in the world who would shape the future of basketball.
“People always ask me about being the next Andrew Wiggins and that’s great,” Gill-Caesar said. “But I work with him so one day I can maybe be even better. That’s what he wants for me too. I want to be the first Teki.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter @JayJayUSATODAY.