Success and Canada Basketball are two words not often associated with each other, however all that is about to change. Like the 2nd most powerful basketball country, Spain, Canada will soon feature a lineup with multiple NBA star players.
Spain has been a powerhouse internationally since before basketball became an Olympic sport in 1936. Three-time Olympic silver medalists (1984, 2008, 2012), World Cup gold medalists (2006), and 10-time Eurobasket medalists (gold 2009, 2011), their current lineup would be a contender for the NBA Finals.
Canada has not enjoyed a lot of success in basketball internationally. After Olympic silver in 1936, Canada’s best finish internationally has been 4th at the Olympics in Montreal (1976) and again in Los Angeles (1984). In most Olympic years, Canada’s team has failed to qualify for the tournament, but that is on the verge of changing for a very long time.
Normally, expectations are low and Canada’s preparations reflect the futility, a short training camp where a team of professionals from Europe or the NBA D-League are meshed with available college players and hopefully someone with NBA experience. This time Head Coach Jay Triano had several days of real practice and two exhibition games followed by several more days of practice to build a 12 man roster from a growing pool 19 players.
“It is a lot better than we have had it in the past because usually it is a training camp with three days, pick a team and travel somewhere,” Triano said after Saturday’s game against Jamaica. “We have the luxury of having another four days here in Toronto to practice and watch the tape and play against each other and find out where we are as a team. It is going to be difficult to make cuts, but we are trying to convince our guys that if you are not on the team this year, it doesn’t mean you are not with Canada Basketball. We have a pool of players and we are going to select 12 from the pool that are going to represent us this summer.”
Where Team Canada was lucky to have one player with NBA experience to lean on during qualifying tournaments in the past, this summer, Triano has six current and former NBA players trying out for the team with a lot more high-end talent arriving in the immediate future. The 19 players at training camp are probably not going to be the best Canada will have to choose from, if they can qualify for the 2014 FIBA World Championships at their regional FIBA tournament this summer.
Returning to Team Canada is two-time NBA champion Joel Anthony of the Miami HEAT. Where Anthony is a role player in Miami, he is the solid veteran presence that anchors the paint for Canada as witnessed during the 4th quarter of game two versus Jamaica on Saturday. Anthony knows how to play the international game and his style seems even better suited to FIBA rules than the NBA. At 30-years-old and a FIBA veteran, a lot of the pressure this summer will have to be carried by Anthony.
Tristan Thompson was selected 4th overall by the Cavaliers in 2011 and is developing into a force in the paint. He struggled with the FIBA rules in game one against Jamaica, but he led Canada in rebounding in both games and had a 16 point 10 rebound double-double in game two.
Andrew Nicholson was selected 19th by the Magic in 2012 and the forward provides the pick-and-pop option to compliment Thompson. Together, these two forwards have the potential to provide a lot of Canada’s offense and defense.
“(Thompson and Nicholson) are getting used to playing with each other,” Triano said. “There are times when one guy is open and the other guy has it and we are not quite finding that yet, but that will come time and with practice.”
Cory Joseph was selected 29th by the Spurs in 2011 and played in the NBA Finals against the HEAT last season. A young backup point guard that is still learning his craft, it would be hard to say Canada has seen a floor general with better experience since Steve Nash ran the team.
Andy Rautins was a second round pick of the Knicks in 2010 and has only played 5 games in the NBA. However, the shooting guard is a proven three-point threat that shot 43.8 percent from deep on 7.1 attempts per game in 51 NBA D-League games last season.
“Andy (Rautins) is a scorer,” Triano confirmed.
Kris Joseph was a second round draft pick by Boston in 2012 and played in 10 NBA games with the Celtics and Nets last season. Joseph was an athletic scorer and rebounder in college and has put up big numbers in the NBA D-League.
Those not playing for Canada this summer include:
Forward Anthony Bennett, 2013 1st overall NBA draft pick with the Cleveland Cavaliers,
Forward Kelly Olynyk, 2013 13th overall NBA draft pick with the Boston Celtics,
Center Robert Sacre who played last season with the Los Angeles Lakers, and
Canada Basketball could be featuring two number one overall NBA draft picks on their 2014 roster at the FIBA World Championships and not even powerhouse Spain has ever been able to make that claim. If some of Canada’s good looking young prospects like Myck Kabongo can eventually land an NBA job, Triano may actually have to cut a player with NBA experience from Team Canada’s roster in the not too distant future.
What stands out with Canada’s National team is just how young they are. Their best talent is still learning the game and it’s possible, their best player is just entering college. Canada is setup for a long run of international success starting next summer, if this year’s team can qualify for the World Championships.
Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.
You can follow Stephen on twitter @stevesraptors