Canada names men’s basketball squad as Rio qualifying nears
Feature photo: Andrew Wiggins (left) and Cory Joseph in NBA action on January 10, 2015 have been named to Team Canada.
On the heels of the women’s team winning FIBA Americas and qualifying for the Olympic Games, Canada Basketball unveiled the men’s squad on Thursday that will take part in an exhibition tournament ahead of its own shot at Rio 2016.
The 13-man team that will play at the Tuto Marchand Continental Cup in Puerto Rico from August 23 to 26 will be whittled down to 12 players for the FIBA Americas championship that begins August 31. That tournament will send the top two sides to Rio 2016.
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“Obviously there’s always going to be competition for spots on a national team. It’s nothing new, I think for us it’s great to have options, but I think it’s great for the players to be in a competitive environment,” general manager and Canadian Olympian Steve Nash said earlier this week as the team trained in Toronto’s Air Canada Centre prior to the announcement.
“Even the guys that maybe don’t make the cut are growing and learning and they’ll be a part of our program in the future. It’s a healthy environment.”
The initial training camp roster had 16 players. Sim Bhullar (centre) and Carl English (guard) are the first cuts, while youngster Jamal Murray will not be with the team due to commitments with the University of Kentucky in his first NCAA season, likely prior to entering the 2016 NBA Draft. All three players were on Canada’s silver-medal winning Pan Am Games team this summer. Bhullar featured for the Sacramento Kings in the NBA this year, while English is listed as a member of AEK Athens in Greece.
“You need balance, depth and support in each position,” Nash said of the thinking behind crafting the team. “You need guys to fit together and find chemistry, what the best lineups and rotations are – it’s pretty standard stuff. Everyone has been through it before and you try to build the best team that you can.”
Canada will play against Argentina, Brazil, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico in four consecutive days at Tuto Marchand. While they’ll learn more about their FIBA Americas opponents prior to the Rio qualifying tourney, they’ll also get to know their teammates better.
“Everyday in practice we’re getting a little bit more familiar with each other,” Nash said of the relatively young squad available to Canada. “It’s getting more smooth, there’s a better understanding between the players, better understanding of what we’re asking them to do at both ends of the floor, strides are being made. Puerto Rico will be continuing that path.”
The roster at present consists of guards Cory Joseph and Nik Stauskas who play in the NBA. Other backcourt players are Olivier Hanlan, Brady Heslip and Phil Scrubb – all three have European contracts.
Canada is especially impressive up front where NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins is joined by fellow big leaguers Anthony Bennett, Melvin Ejim, Andrew Nicholson, Kelly Olynyk, Dwight Powell and Robert Sacre, while Aaron Doornekamp is the only Europe-based player. Olynyk and Sacre are natural centres on the team, although Bennett has been known to use his size in the middle as well.
Squad versatility gives head coach Jay Triano – an Olympian himself – options, while Nash remains bullish about basketball in Canada as a whole, the sport’s success can be traced back to his own exploits as a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player in the last decade.
“It’s an exciting time for our sport in this country,” Nash said. “The game is growing at all levels, our women’s team is phenomenal, obviously we have more talent on our men’s team than we’ve ever had right now, there are a lot of very young players as well which is exciting.”
Working out of the Toronto Raptors practice court under its division championship banners, Canada’s general manager likely had daily reminders what the lone NBA team in the country means to the game.
“Raptors have caught the imagination of the country as well, so basketball is continuing to grow and is in a great place and we’re trying to do our small little part to move the game forward and help (the players) deliver on their potential, and really just grow a fan base for our national team, get people excited about our national team, we have the players now to do that and this summer will be a great opportunity for them to perform on a bigger stage.”
Incredibly, this already talented team could be even stronger but not for injury and contract negotiations causing guard Tyler Ennis and forward Tristan Thompson to be kept off the training camp invites. This is a good problem to have. Nash hopes young players, whether they make the team or not, will continue to push past new levels for their sake, and in doing so either earn a roster spot or challenge those ahead of them to make Canada better.
“This is a process, you (have to) stick with it every day and continue to get better. Some days you might not see that improvement or growth but you stick with that process.”