After a three-day training camp at the Air Canada Centre this past weekend in Toronto, the Canadian Men’s National team kicked off their European tour of 11 exhibition games, with a 1-1 record.
After landing less than 24 hours earlier, Canada dropped the first game to Slovenia 92-80, but bounced back nicely yesterday with an 80-75 victory over Ukraine.
Notable absences have been Cleveland Cavaliers forwards Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, as well as Sacramento Kings first-round pick Nick Stauskas.
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Fortunately, Wiggins and Stauskas have made it clear they wish to join the team at some point during the tour. According to Wiggins’ father – Mitchell, and Stauskas himself, both players expect to join the team sooner, rather than later.
The team’s next game will be today versus Georgia in Slovenia, before the team takes four days off for rest and practice. They will then head to Croatia to take on their national team on August 1st, before heading to Italy and Spain to take on Serbia, Bosnia, Spain, Turkey, and Angola respectively.
The next couple of weeks will be fun to watch, especially since Canadian basketball fans can see how Canada stacks up against some of the best national programs the world has to offer.
A Look to the Future
With the up-and-coming of the best generation of basketball players to ever touch hardwood here in the Great White North, it can be easy to assume that Canada Basketball is gearing up for a renaissance in their program’s history.
With the fresh blood of Corey Joseph, Kelly Olynyk, Tristan Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, and Anthony Bennett (say what you want, but he put up great numbers in the summer league and is finally healthy for the first time in two years), Canada looks to be a slam dunk (excuse the pun) for the 2016 Olympic games in Rio.
That is a heck of a starting five right there alone, but let’s get something straight; this team has a loooooong way to go before it can be considered a true power house on the international stage.
A Learning Experience
One of those first steps was in fact a stumble last year during the FIBA America’s championship, a tournament that could have qualified Canada for 2016 in Rio.
After getting off to a great 4-1 start in the tourney, Canada, currently ranked 26th in the world, would go on to lose two straight to 39th ranked Venezuela and 43rd ranked Dominican Republic before showing some life but eventually falling to South American powerhouse Argentina.
Canadian players walk off while Argentina celebrates a 73-67 win at the FIBA Americas basketball tournament in Caracas, Venezuela last year. (Photo: LEO RAMIREZ/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
The 4-4 record kept Canada out of the next round and effectively eliminated their hopes of even qualifying for this year’s world championships, thus forcing Canada to schedule this 11 game exhibition trip instead of playing for another shot at Rio.
The general mood around the country seems to be one of patience, and rightfully so. The team from last year consisted of long-time veterans and newcomers who clearly needed more time to gel. It should also be noted that the team was missing the two most important players of them all, a young college superstar named Andrew Wiggins and future hall of famer Steve Nash.
Different Ways to Lead
Wiggins can be excused, as he was still only 18 at the time and was preparing for his only NCAA season he would ever play. Personally, however, I feel Nash would have been more valuable at that time in his shorts on the court showing the young guys what it takes to be a legend, rather than just telling them in an expensive suit from some boardroom over the phone in Toronto or Los Angeles.
It’s a harsh truth when a guy as good as Nash decides playing in the national program is not his game anymore, but I do admire his approach as a GM and letting the young guys get a crack and learn to grow together while he learns to become the Pat Riley of Canada.
So far it’s worked; getting young guys like Wiggins to buy in has not been a problem. You don’t tell the greatest basketball player ever to play for your country “no” when he says the program really needs you. Apparently NBA teams have a hard time saying no to Nash as well; it’s part of the reason why Wiggins still might play for Canada in the last couple of European exhibition matches in early August.
We might have a young Pat Riley on our hands yet.
Alas, there will be a lot of time for this group to gel as they progress in their careers, and if all goes according to plan, Canada might be the next Spain that will look to challenge the mighty US of A for top spot, maybe even take it by 2020 in Tokyo.
So stay strong hoops fans, even though we will be watching from the sidelines as the USA and Spain likely run through the best the rest of the world has to offer, take solace knowing that the old phrase “we’ll get ’em next year” has never been truer than now.
We won’t take the throne just yet, but we will make the gods of this game sweat and take notice, and I can’t wait to see it.
If you’re interested in following Canada’s gelling process over in Europe the next few weeks, be sure to check out Canada Basketball for all the latest highlights and news.