ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- There's not a lot you can do to faze Nik Stauskas on the basketball court.
Face-guard the Michigan sophomore guard, limit his touches and make one of the nation's best players look average (which Duke did) and he'll high-five your fans.
Have him play in the national title game, an exhibition against Concordia College or in Saturday's matchup with No. 1 Arizona and he's excited for those 40 minutes all the same.
None of that gets to him.
Because to Stauskas, "it's just hoops."
It's a pretty remarkable sentiment for someone at his level who has dedicated his life to this.
Yes, he was the kid who had just three hours of sunlight after school in Canada and spent two of them shoveling the snow in his driveway so he could use the last hour to get some shots up. Yes, basketball took him away from his family to two prep schools on the U.S. East Coast at 15 years old. And yes, basketball could be how he eventually makes his living. Or not.
"It's not who I am, it's what I do," Stauskas said. "And when you look at it like that, when you realize your life will be good with or without it, then it just becomes something you like to do."
"It is what he loves to do, don't get me wrong," his mother, Ruta, added. "When he's saying it's just hoops it's not that he doesn't care about it. He cares about it so much, but he realizes that it's not life. Hoops is what he loves to do and wants to do.
"But it is just hoops."
Stauskas has always had that kind of attitude.
Even at a young age, nothing ever really got to him. He and his older brother, Peter, would play one-on-one for hours every day. Nearly every day, it ended with Peter losing and Nik having basketballs thrown or kicked at his head.
The game came with a price.
"There was a point in time pretty early on when he pretty much just started whopping my ass," Peter said. "But I'm the older brother, so I obviously got a little bit pissed off, so I started chucking balls at him. Once, I chased him with a shovel."
Every day, Nik would want to play again. Even knowing the outcome, even knowing he'd have to run for his life. To him, it was worth it.
There was a period when Peter hit his growth spurt and he picked up wins here and there. So when the boys came into the house, Ruta and their father, Paul, would look to Peter to find out who had won and who had lost. If they looked at Nik, they wouldn't be able to tell anything other than he had just played ball, something that has stuck with him at every level.
"He has always wanted to keep himself even-keel, not to get too high, not to get too low," Paul said. "It helps him survive. There are a lot of games where he has played horribly and he doesn't want to stay in the dumps for a week. So he developed that mentality of 'It is just hoops, I will live to tomorrow, the sun will rise.' "
But like most rules, there are exceptions.
And though it might be tough to find things that rattle Stauskas, there are a few.
Ask him about his Christmas present when he was 15 -- when he and his parents went to Cleveland to see a Cavaliers game so he could watch his idol, LeBron James, in person. Paul had gotten the family tickets near the player tunnel so that Nik could, he hoped, get a high-five or smile from James.