It’s time to put the ghosts to rest. To calm the skeptics; to put the past in the past and embrace what should be an incredibly bright future for basketball.
After the heartbreak and pain and decades in the wilderness of international basketball, it’s time for Canada’s National Men’s Team to complete their quest and qualify for the Olympics for the first time in 21 years and only the last. second time since 1988 – a time that seems so distant, kids who grew up idolizing Vince Carter and have children of their own don’t even know it happened.
You can hear the frustration – maybe even desperation – in the voice of national team captain Cory Joseph, who has been dressing internationally for Canada since he was a teenager, but in nearly a decade with the senior team, does not yet have a tangible taste. Success.
The tight calls and disappointments – in 2013 at FIBA Americas and even more painfully in 2015 in Mexico City, then in 2016 at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in the Philippines, then again in 2019 and the Basketball World Cup – FIBA ball in China – scars are gone.
“We definitely remember it and it always stings,” Joseph says of the burdens he and some of his national team teammates have had to carry. “So we try to get rid of that feeling; I try to dispel this feeling.
No amount of scar tissue is enough to dampen Joseph’s love for the game that has shone every time he has spoken in 10 NBA seasons.
“Basketball is fun,” he says. It’s almost his mantra.
But enough that even he couldn’t help but approach that final inflection point – another Olympic qualifying tournament, but this time they’re playing at home and enjoying a good draw and schedule – with a good note of caution. .
“We definitely have a lot of talent,” said Joseph of Canada, the 12-player roster that is expected to feature an eight-player all-NBA rotation backed by competent European pros beyond that. “It’s very well known… we definitely have a good shot here. We’ve been a great group of guys, but… I’ve been here for a while; I’ve had talented bands before and we couldn’t do the job.
“So we have to be extremely focused and put everything in place and come out and play extremely hard. I think if we play together and play hard, I think our talents can show.
For once, it’s Canada that doesn’t have the scandalous travel schedule or time change to overcome. Think Greece, against whom Canada opens the tournament on Tuesday night before hosting China on Wednesday.
On paper, they’re the sixth team in the world, but they won’t be full in Victoria, not even close, according to head coach Rick Pitino.
He laid it down thick enough, but it may not be ideal that they traveled 24 hours to get to Victoria, as Pitino joked (but not really) that they had to catch a 5:45 am flight at the departure from Athens because “the federation wanted to save $ 20 per person”. He went on to explain how many planned starters they would be deprived of due to injury and joked about his disappointment that Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo took his team to the Conference Finals. Is and therefore was not available for Greece for OQT. .
China is deprived of some of its key veterans and should be a mere stroll away, while on the other side of the draw Canada, ranked No.21, Turkey, ranked No.10, and the Czech Republic No.12. , only have four current NBA players on their roster. combined lists.
Everyone in Victoria thinks this is Canada’s tournament to lose.
“Canada is obviously the favorite of this group in my mind,” said Czech captain and Chicago Bulls goaltender Tomas Satoransky. “When you put them on paper, I would say they’re the second best team in the world if you just name.
“Most of their NBA guys have a big role in their teams, some of them are stars so it’s going to be interesting to see how they are able to put together the squad and how are they going to be able to play at home. .
“I wonder, I can’t wait to see this. “
The fly in the ointment here is that the next time this version of the national team plays together will be the first.
There are six players on the roster who played for Canada in Mexico City when they lost a spot at the 2016 Olympics to Venezuela in free throws with the timer expired, but Canada’s coaching staff have been stuck in the field. has completely returned since then.
Joseph is the only player in the 2019 World Cup roster, the only time Nurse has coached the team.
Some of the players he’ll be counting on – Luguentz Dort of the Oklahoma City Thunder; Nickeil Alexander-Walker of the New Orleans Pelicans and Trey Lyles of the San Antonio Spurs – have never played a senior game for Canada.
Others – Mychal Mulder of the Golden State Warriors or RJ Barrett of the New York Knicks – have never played a significant role.
Their only “game” before the tournament was against the Canadian Under-19 team. The competition in Victoria will be a big step forward, as talented as Canada’s youth teams are these days.
Oddly enough, this could also work in their favor.
“We weren’t able to spot them, they didn’t play any games,” Pitino said. “We’ve been in three friendlies and they haven’t played a game, so we’re going a bit blind in terms of scouting what they’re doing.
“We certainly know their talent, we certainly know their coach is exceptional, but we don’t know what they are going to perform offensively, defensively as a ploy. We can just pick the Toronto Raptors or other former Canadian teams, but I don’t think that is of much help.
There’s no way anyone would rather get into such a short tournament – it only takes four games to win it; but you can lose it in half – and with so much at stake and without having some sort of exposure schedule, but between COVID protocols and border restrictions, that’s the way it was meant to be.
They will have to understand it.
“I think I’m happy with how the team has finally come together,” said Nurse. “I think it’s well put together. I think there are some really committed, passionate and talented guys. I think there is a deep team here. I think there are guys who play really specific roles and play those roles well, you know, that’s what makes a team a team.
“They trained really well. I think they were super focused. No games or prep games or anything like that, so we’re going to find out a lot more tomorrow about who we are and who we can become. But I’m very happy with where we’re sitting here today.
This is how we will feel on Sunday after – hopefully – the final of the tournament that matters the most.
Finally – a year late – we have a six day drag race and six teams where the past, present and future of Canadian basketball are heading in the same direction. The only option is to crash or win.
Winning would mean a place at the Olympics. Winning would mean that the “golden age of Canadian basketball” could finally begin.
“I’ve been working there for a long time,” says 29-year-old Joseph. “I started about 14, 15 years ago with the [youth] team; 10 years ago with the senior team. I tried to get [to the Olympics] since.
“So that would mean a lot for us to be successful for sure. I think it would mean a lot to our country. I think our country is a little thirsty for it. I’m definitely thirsty for it. So that would mean a lot to everyone involved in this whole nation. “
Yes, he would; yes it would.