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elly63 Nov 27, 2019 10:14 PM

Canada Basketball goes all-in for this coming summer
Canada’s path back to the Olympics is not an easy one, but this month has been an important and encouraging step for the program, Josh Lewenberg writes.
Josh Lewenberg tsn.ca November 27 2019

TORONTO – What a month it has been for the Canadian senior men’s basketball program.

After winning their bid to host one of four FIBA qualifying tournaments in Victoria, B.C. over the summer, they found out who will stand in their way of returning to the Olympics for the first time since 2000 on Wednesday morning.

Reigning NBA MVP

and Greece, ranked seventh in the world, highlight the competition they’ll face in the six-team winner-take-all tournament, which will take place June 23-28.

Canada (ranked 21st) and Greece will share Group A with China (27th) while Czech Republic (10th), Turkey (15th) and Uruguay (43rd) round out Group B. Only the winner of the tournament will qualify for Tokyo 2020. The rest go home – or, in Canada’s case, stay home – empty-handed.

It’s a tough draw, to be sure. Canada’s path back to the Olympics is not an easy one, regardless of who shows up to play. They’ll need all hands on deck. The cause for optimism is the turnout they could have.

On Tuesday, Denver Nuggets rising star and Kitchener, Ont., native

– arguably Canada’s best NBA player – tweeted his intention to suit up for the national team this summer.

“Playing for my country is always an honour and I want to take the step and leadership role to commit to Canada Basketball this summer,” the 22-year-old guard wrote. “I want to play my part to help push our team into the Olympics and compete at the highest world stage. Let’s go Canada.”

Just a few hours later, Oklahoma City Thunder guard and Hamilton, ON’s own

joined him, followed by his cousin, Nickeil Alexander-Walker of the New Orleans Pelicans.

Then, with the New York Knicks in Toronto on Wednesday and just ahead of his hometown NBA debut, Mississauga, Ont.’s RJ Barrett added his name to the rapidly growing list of participating Canadians.

"One hundred per cent, I definitely plan on playing for my country this summer," said the third-overall pick in last summer's NBA draft. "I'm very proud to say that. I try to play every summer, as much as I can, so I'm 100 per cent planning on playing."

They join Memphis Grizzlies forward
(Mississauga), Dallas Mavericks forward (Toronto), Orlando Magic big man (Montreal), Toronto Raptors forward

(Montreal), and Raptors two-way forward Oshae Brissett (Mississauga) in publically committing to represent Canada this summer.

Meanwhile, Sacramento Kings guard
(Pickering, Ont.), Cleveland Cavaliers big man Tristan (Brampton, Ont.) and Miami Heat centre

(Kamloops, B.C.) don’t even have to say the words. You can bet they’ll show up, because they almost always do.

"It's great to see everybody buying in and trying to do something great for our country, trying to get to Tokyo," Barrett said. "I'm very excited."

Their commitment to and public endorsement of a program that has fallen on hard times over the last two decades, and particularly over the last few years, could go a long way.

Canada’s senior men have repeatedly come up short in international competition, most notably at the FIBA Americas Championship in Mexico City in 2015, when a team filled with NBA talent collapsed in a must-win game against Venezuela, or most recently at the World Cup last summer, with most of their prominent players pulling out last minute.

Of course, there are plenty of fair and valid reasons why a player might decide against playing for their country any given summer. For instance, Murray was nursing an ankle injury last summer, while Barrett hurt his calf. Brooks was recovering from foot surgery, while others – Gilgeous-Alexander among them – opted to sit out and focus on the upcoming NBA season.

That each of Canada’s NBA players – save for Joseph, Birch and Olynyk, who got hurt during an exhibition game – chose not to play during a crucial qualifying window was the imperfect storm. However, like most things in the league, there’s a domino effect. Once the best players take a stand everybody else usually falls in line.

Credit Canada Basketball CEO Glen Grunwald, Canadian senior men’s team GM Rowan Barrett and head coach Nick Nurse for their efforts in recruiting some of the country’s best players. Then, credit the players who have made the early commitment to play, particularly Murray, for setting the tone.

The process started months ago. There’s a reasonable chance this week’s commitments don’t happen if not for Canada raising the money to bid on and ultimately win the right to host one of this summer’s last-chance qualifiers. Even last summer’s high-profile hirings of Grunwald and Nurse sent a message to fans and sponsors: they are serious about winning.

They’re all-in, and they’ve made no secret of it. Even securing these commitments could have and arguably should have been done quietly, to give themselves some room for error from a PR standpoint.

A lot can chance in the seven months between now and June. Players could get hurt; contract disputes or family issues could pop up, among other things. Canada Basketball thought at least a few of its young stars would play last summer and was largely responsible for building the hype going into training camp, before things blew up in their face.

They run the risk of facing similar backlash should players bail like last year, or if things don’t go according to plan, like in 2015. However, this is their chance to capitalize on all the talent, continue to grow the game in the country and ultimately change the narrative that’s defined the program for nearly two decades. They know that and they’re going for it.

Their road will be a difficult one. Fortunately, they’ll be on home soil, potentially feature their most talented roster ever, and because they’re in the same group as Greece they’ll see Antetokounmpo in the preliminary round and won’t have to face him in a do-or-die semifinals or finals game.

It’s probably best to temper your expectations, given the history of the program and what’s still in front of them, but this month has been an important and encouraging step for Canada Basketball.

elly63 Nov 27, 2019 10:20 PM

Barrett joins list of Canadians to commit to Olympic qualifier
New York Knicks rookie forward RJ Barrett is the latest player to commit to play for the Canadian men's basketball team at the last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament next summer in Victoria.
The Canadian Press with TSN.ca Files tsn.ca November 27 2019

TORONTO — The momentum keeps building for Canada's men's basketball team.

RJ Barrett became the latest NBA star to commit to playing this summer in Canada's quest for its first Olympic berth since the 2000 Sydney Games.

"One-hundred per cent, definitely plan on playing for my country this summer," the New York Knicks rookie said. "I'm very proud to say that."

The 19-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., declared his intentions Wednesday hours before Knicks faced the Toronto Raptors in Barrett's first NBA game at home.

Barrett's announcement continues a groundswell of commitment from some of the country's top players. Denver Nuggets star guard Jamal Murray announced Tuesday evening that he's on board to play this summer. Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and New Orleans Pelicans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker added their names to the list a few hours later.

Dillon Brooks, Dwight Powell and Khem Birch have also said they'll play, while Kelly Olynyk and Cory Joseph virtually never turn down a Canadian team invite.

"It's great to see everyone buying in and trying to do something great for our country. It's really exciting," Barrett said. "People want to play and it's finally starting to show now."

Earlier Wednesday, Canada learned it will host Greece, the Czech Republic, Turkey, China and Uruguay in its last-chance qualifying tournament June 23-28 in Victoria. Canada must win to clinch its first men's Olympic berth since the 2000 Sydney Games.

Barrett's dad Rowan, who's also the general manager of the men's team, played in those Games alongside Canadian legend Steve Nash. The younger Barrett is keen to follow in his father's footsteps.

"It's the way to serve and give back to your country," RJ Barrett said.

Canada's men's program has been criticized for its absence of NBA talent. Expectations for last summer's World Cup were sky-high. Canada could have assembled perhaps the best team in program history. But one-by-one the big names withdrew for various reasons. Birch and Joseph were the only NBA players to make the trip to China where Canada, led by Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse, finished 21st.

Barrett is no stranger to donning the red and white. He earned tournament MVP honours at the U19 World Cup, where Canada captured an historic gold medal, despite being the team's youngest player.

The six-foot-seven rookie, who was picked third overall in this year's NBA draft, is averaging 15.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists with the Knicks.

He said he's living the dream.

"Sometimes when I'm on the court I literally just stop and am like, 'Wow, I'm really here,'" Barrett said through a wide smile. "So to me it's just my everything, it means the world to me and it's just the beginning."

Barrett had been battling an illness and was listed as questionable for Wednesday's game. But the Canadian vowed a bug wouldn't keep him from his first NBA game at home.

"I think everybody when they go home has (that game) circled," Barrett said.

He estimated there would be 300 friends and family members at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday night.

"Everybody kind of feels something for where they grew up, where they came from," Barrett said. "For me, Canada, the whole country had my back. I love them for that."

Barrett's love of the game flourished in what was then the Air Canada Centre. He sat courtside for his first ever Raptors game as a 10-year-old. His dad was being honoured that night.

"When I think about coming back here and playing my first game, coming to the arena just now for shootaround I was thinking about all the times where my dad took me to a playoff game, or I was able to come and watch LeBron play, or I was able to sit courtside and watch the Hawks play one time," Barrett recalled. "So just to see all that and now for me to be playing this game means a lot to me and I'm just excited and I'm going to have fun."

Knicks coach David Fizdale didn't expect Barrett to be affected by the moment.

"I just know that any time you go home you want to perform, you want to play for your family and your friends. I'm just trying to keep that adrenaline down a little bit, I don't want him running around throwing the ball over the place," Fizdale said.

"(But) today you would have thought we were in any other gym. It was like any other shootaround today. I'm expecting him to play well."

Fizdale said the Canadian is easy to coach.

"His maturity, he's a steady kid. All the guys that I've worked with — when you can tell them something and they apply it right away? That's usually a guy that's pretty special and he's one of those guys," Fizdale said. "If you show him something, he's got it. You have to have certain kind of focus and maturity to do that and he has that."

As of Wednesday, here are the list of players who have publicly committed to playing for Canada next summer:

Jamal Murray - SG, Denver Nuggets
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander - PG, Los Angeles Clippers
RJ Barrett - SG, New York Knicks
Nickeil Alexander-Walker - SG, New Orleans Pelicans
Dillon Brooks - F, Memphis Grizzlies
Dwight Powell - F, Dallas Mavericks
Khem Birch - F/C, Orlando Magic
Chris Boucher- F/C, Toronto Raptors
Oshae Brissett - F, Toronto Raptors

TSN Josh Lewenberg also notes that it is likely Cleveland Cavaliers centre
Tristan Thompson, Miami Heat forward Kelly Olynyk and Sacramento Kings point guard Cory Joseph will all likely play for Canada.

suburbanite Nov 27, 2019 10:30 PM

Pretty much what we said when people were complaining about players not showing up for the FIBA tournament. The Olympics is the only international competition that holds any weight for NBA players, and even then, it's well below a championship ring.

Problem is Canada doesn't have the luxury that the U.S. does in qualifying even when 90% of their stars sit it out. We still have to make it there through one of the qualifying tournaments. If these guys (plus hopefully a resurgent Andrew Wiggins this year) all show up, we have a very good shot. The first tournament starts the same week as the NBA finals end though. Thankfully the list on that article is incorrect. SGA plays for OKC now and not the Clippers who have a good shot of being in those finals. Murray on Denver and Dwight on Dallas are the only other players (other than Boucher since the Raptors are obviously going back-to-back) who have even a remote chance of making it that far.

WhipperSnapper Nov 27, 2019 10:46 PM

So you're saying Raptors defeat the Clippers in the finals. Should I invest in broom stock?

kevinbottawa Nov 30, 2019 9:13 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by suburbanite (Post 8752738)
Are they going to play at TD Place arena? Great location but I didnt know it was configured for basketball.

I saw the men's national team play there and the U Sports final 8 will be at TD Place Arena early next year. And the Capital Hoops Classic between Carleton and uOttawa is being played there for the first time next year. Lots of basketball being played at TD Place.

isaidso Dec 1, 2019 4:16 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by suburbanite (Post 8761003)
Pretty much what we said when people were complaining about players not showing up for the FIBA tournament. The Olympics is the only international competition that holds any weight for NBA players, and even then, it's well below a championship ring.

The Olympics are more prestigious than the FIBA WC but it's a bit simplistic to take this development as proof that only the Olympics holds value for NBA players. A number of things have transpired to bring us to this place.

Basketball Canada built up expectations heading into the 2019 FIBA WC only to have it blow up in their face. The level of disappointment nationally was palpable and we reached a tipping point culturally. We wouldn't tolerate Sidney Crosby saying no to Canada and the same thing is happening in basketball. The hiring of Glen Grunwalk and Nick Nurse sent a clear message that just showing up isn't ok; we want to win. It's important for the growth of the sport and it's become important to Canadians. After the WC fiasco, work began by Nurse and others to get Canada's top talent to buy in. It took months but it's finally bearing fruit.

Almost all our NBA players are saying yes. I don't think they want to re-live 2019 again either. The Olympics will remain more important than the FIBA WC for the forseeable future but I don't agree that this is about that. I think our attitudes as a nation when it comes to basketball has shifted and will continue to do so. We want to win.

Maldive Dec 1, 2019 7:16 PM

Raptors commercial:

6 wins in a row and counting but still 2 back from the Bucks .. but 2 games in hand.

Maybe life after "he left" is possible... solid team and great start. Better than expected?

WhipperSnapper Dec 2, 2019 1:24 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by isaidso (Post 8763360)

Basketball Canada built up expectations heading into the 2019 FIBA WC only to have it blow up in their face. The level of disappointment nationally was palpable and we reached a tipping point culturally. We wouldn't tolerate Sidney Crosby saying no to Canada and the same thing is happening in basketball. The hiring of Glen Grunwalk and Nick Nurse sent a clear message that just showing up isn't ok; we want to win. It's important for the growth of the sport and it's become important to Canadians. After the WC fiasco, work began by Nurse and others to get Canada's top talent to buy in. It took months but it's finally bearing fruit.

That's false. The NHL playoffs take precedence over the IIHF Championship. We won 5 times in 20 years in light of it. It would not be a big, lasting news story if a top player from an eliminated NHL team chose not to play. It's at the end of the NHL season. FIBA is at the start of the NBA season. Apples to Oranges.

WhipperSnapper Dec 2, 2019 1:33 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Maldive (Post 8763702)
Raptors commercial:

6 wins in a row and counting but still 2 back from the Bucks .. but 2 games in hand.

Maybe life after "he left" is possible... solid team and great start. Better than expected?

I'd spell he with a capital H. (LOL) He is a great player. His self admiration has gone up several bars this year. Durability is still the biggest question mark. I think the Raptors lucked out with moving on.

Bishop2047 Dec 2, 2019 3:05 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by WhipperSnapper (Post 8764004)
I'd spell he with a capital H. (LOL) He is a great player. His self admiration has gone up several bars this year. Durability is still the biggest question mark. I think the Raptors lucked out with moving on.

(H)e will be missed come playoff time, more for the defense than the offence. I like this team's identity more this year than last however. Blue collar mentality and playing time is earned rather than given.

KL moving on was in many ways a win win. This years players got a championship and invaluable playoff experience, and he got to go home.

Maybe we will see Him again in the finals (though I don't see the Raps going past the bucks this year).

Djeffery Dec 2, 2019 11:28 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by WhipperSnapper (Post 8763994)
That's false. The NHL playoffs take precedence over the IIHF Championship. We won 5 times in 20 years in light of it. It would not be a big, lasting news story if a top player from an eliminated NHL team chose not to play. It's at the end of the NHL season. FIBA is at the start of the NBA season. Apples to Oranges.

You are also talking about a different event. No one really cares about the World Hockey Championships. They are a yearly event, that no one really pays attention to on this side of the Atlantic because it's almost always in Europe going up against the Stanley Cup playoffs. The proper comparison is the Olympics or the World Cup, whenever they decide to hold it. There is huge pressure on the top players to suit up for those.

WhipperSnapper Dec 2, 2019 2:39 PM

The discussion are about events outside of the Olympics. The IIHF is the premier world event and no one gives two shirts about it. The World Cup is an international advertising campaign for the NHL and the NHLPA is not a supporter. I doubt we'll see another and certainly not a consistent schedule.

The Olympics replaced the Canada Cup. This topic is not about the Olympics

WhipperSnapper Dec 2, 2019 2:55 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Bishop2047 (Post 8764083)
(H)e will be missed come playoff time, more for the defense than the offence. I like this team's identity more this year than last however. Blue collar mentality and playing time is earned rather than given.

KL moving on was in many ways a win win. This years players got a championship and invaluable playoff experience, and he got to go home.

Maybe we will see Him again in the finals (though I don't see the Raps going past the bucks this year).

I just don't see KL making it through a long playoff run. He had to prove himself last year by carrying the team and it made him a star. He has accomplished what he wanted. Star players usually beat team efforts however, I think the Raptors are as strong as they were last year. It will take luck again to repeat.

Acajack Dec 2, 2019 2:59 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by WhipperSnapper (Post 8764311)
The discussion are about events outside of the Olympics. The IIHF is the premier world event and no one gives two shirts about it.

In North America at least. It is pretty important to European hockey fans. Second only to the Olympics.

Some years certain countries have had crowds dancing in the streets when their team won gold at the IIHF.

suburbanite Dec 2, 2019 3:25 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by WhipperSnapper (Post 8764320)
I just don't see KL making it through a long playoff run. He had to prove himself last year by carrying the team and it made him a star. He has accomplished what he wanted. Star players usually beat team efforts however, I think the Raptors are as strong as they were last year. It will take luck again to repeat.

The Raps are as strong a regular season team as last year, but many a good regular season team have been embarrassed when they meet a top 5 player in the playoffs, including us two years ago. People forget that Giannis was eating us alive until Nurse made the decision to put Kawhi on him (and support him with double, sometimes triple teams in the paint). Nurse has been using some very creative defensive schemes that some might even call gimmicky. A lot of stuff that you see in College and European ball but that has never really been properly applied in the NBA. It works so well right now because it throws team off-balance. The playoffs typically revert back to much more typical man defense, and even though we still saw some of those creative schemes have success in the playoffs last year, a big part of that was having individual talents like Kawhi and Danny able to cover gaps in the system. I have total faith in Nurse based on what we've already seen in his short time as HC, but I'm very intrigued to see how it plays out in the playoffs this year.

Kawhi's calming offensive presence is what will be missed most. Siakam has made unbelievable progress, making step-back and pull-up threes with apparent ease. He still has a ways to go before he's on that Harden, Kawhi, Giannis level where you hand him the ball and ask him to make "The Shot"

Maldive Dec 2, 2019 6:08 PM

Nobody thinks the Raps have a chance but previously unknown/forgotten players are steppin' up. Think in playoffs they will meet the Bucks and then who knows lol.

Better to dream. Freddie et al. Don't need 5 bounces when shots hit the net.

FrankieFlowerpot Dec 2, 2019 7:10 PM

Add Trey Lyles to those committing to play next summer

WhipperSnapper Dec 2, 2019 7:21 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by suburbanite (Post 8764350)
The Raps are as strong a regular season team as last year, but many a good regular season team have been embarrassed when they meet a top 5 player in the playoffs, including us two years ago. People forget that Giannis was eating us alive until Nurse made the decision to put Kawhi on him (and support him with double, sometimes triple teams in the paint). Nurse has been using some very creative defensive schemes that some might even call gimmicky. A lot of stuff that you see in College and European ball but that has never really been properly applied in the NBA. It works so well right now because it throws team off-balance. The playoffs typically revert back to much more typical man defense, and even though we still saw some of those creative schemes have success in the playoffs last year, a big part of that was having individual talents like Kawhi and Danny able to cover gaps in the system. I have total faith in Nurse based on what we've already seen in his short time as HC, but I'm very intrigued to see how it plays out in the playoffs this year.

Kawhi's calming offensive presence is what will be missed most. Siakam has made unbelievable progress, making step-back and pull-up threes with apparent ease. He still has a ways to go before he's on that Harden, Kawhi, Giannis level where you hand him the ball and ask him to make "The Shot"

Totally.

Siakam is not Kawhi. I have a feeling Kawhi won't be Kawhi. The guy is still not 100% and I don't see him pushing himself ... playing hurt ... for 4 rounds like he did last year. Who would?

Denscity Dec 2, 2019 9:31 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by FrankieFlowerpot (Post 8764602)
Add Trey Lyles to those committing to play next summer

Nice.
So why is next summer a bigger deal than this summer? Olympics?

Djeffery Dec 3, 2019 1:38 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by WhipperSnapper (Post 8764311)
The discussion are about events outside of the Olympics. The IIHF is the premier world event and no one gives two shirts about it. The World Cup is an international advertising campaign for the NHL and the NHLPA is not a supporter. I doubt we'll see another and certainly not a consistent schedule.

The Olympics replaced the Canada Cup. This topic is not about the Olympics

I'm just saying we tolerate players like Sid saying no because we don't care about that tournament. I thought I was agreeing with you. Even when NHL players became eligible for the IIHF tournament, Canadians didn't really take to it because of the timing. Basketball doesn't have an equivalent annual tournament. Who knows, if the NHL continues to avoid the Olympics and doesn't get the World Cup going on some type of regular schedule (now they are talking Feb 2021??), the annual World Championships might become more important to Canadians wanting their international hockey. But it's not likely as long as it goes against the Stanley Cup, no matter who the players are. The Olympics replaced the Canada Cup from a prestige among Canadian hockey fans perspective, but the World Cup was meant to replace the Canada Cup, with both being pre-season tournaments.


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