Canada Basketball’s Senior Men’s National Team (SMNT) opened training camp in Toronto for the 2015 FIBA Americas tournament that starts later this month in Mexico led by their young veteran point guard from the Toronto Raptors Cory Joseph. While not every player Head Coach Jay Triano would like to be there is available, this will be the best SMNT ever assembled.
“We’ve got the most talent we’ve ever had in Canada in a gymnasium at one time, it’s great,” Triano said. “Some of the guys have been through the process for three years. Guys like Melvin Ejim, Brady Heslip, Phil Scrubb. Other guys have bits and pieces of two years. Olynyk has been at this for two years. Everyone is still just trying to fit in. Our pool of players is deep. We have the best players in camp in here right now. It’s exciting, but we have a long way to go as far as winning international games.”
The 23-year-old Joseph has the most international tournament experience of the new crop of players representing Canada. Joseph represented Canada at the 2011 and 2013 FIBA Americas tournaments and he was the undisputed leader in Venezuela two summers ago, along with significant contributions from Tristan Thompson and Andrew Nicholson.
Canada went 4-4 in Caracas, but had three heartbreaking loses in a row to miss the semi-finals and fail to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Spain. Joseph averaged a team leading 16.1 points and 4.4 assists plus a team second best 5.5 rebounds. Nicholson was second in scoring with 15 points per game and Thompson averaged 11.6 points and 10 boards.
Joseph attributes some of his international success to his NBA club’s style of play as head coach Gregg Popovich’s Spurs share the ball in the extreme. A backup point guard playing behind six-time All-Star Tony Parker, Joseph started 19 games in the Spurs 2014 Championship season and 14 games last year. Now with the Toronto Raptors, Joseph learned a lot from his four years in San Antonio.
“He is our starting point guard,” Triano confirmed. “He is the guy we are going to lean on to run this team. He did a great job for us last year when we were overseas playing 11 (exhibition) games in Europe. He understands the international game better. He is getting better. He is a big part of what we are doing and we expect a lot. We expect him to be the floor general.”
The sixteen man roster at Team Canada’s training camp includes eight current NBA players, three players with some NBA recent exposure, four non-NBA professionals and one player about to start college:
Cory Joseph, Toronto Raptors
Anthony Bennett, Minnesota Timberwolves
Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves (NBA Rookie of the Year)
Andrew Nicholson, Orlando Magic
Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics
Dwight Powell, Dallas Mavericks
Robert Sacre, Los Angeles Lakers
Nik Stauskas, Philadelphia 76ers
Sim Bhullar, Sacramento Kings (10-day contract last season)
Brady Heslip, Minnesota Timberwolves (camp invite last season)
Melvin Ejim, Orlando Magic (current training camp invite)
Aaron Doornekamp, Braunschweig, Germany
Carl English, Athens, Greece
Olivier Hanlan, Zalgiris, Lithuania
Phil Scrubb, Athens, Greece
Jamal Murray, University of Kentucky (rookie)
The obvious hole in the lineup from the 2013 FIBA Americas is Thompson. Thompson is unavailable because the Cavaliers power forward hasn’t signed a new NBA contract for next season yet. Fortunately, the Celtics young big man Olynyk, who played for Canada in 2011 but missed 2013, is available this summer. Also, the Mavericks sophomore power forward Powell and the Lakers center Sacre (entering his fourth NBA season) is in camp.
This is a very talented, but very young group of players and they will be facing veteran teams in Mexico with years of international experience. However, they came close to making it to the medal round last time and this team is undoubtedly much better.
“Our strength is our youth,” Triano said. “And our weakness is out youth. We have to use it to our advantage. We have make sure to turn it to a positive. We have energy and the way we approach every single game. We are infants as far as the international game is concerned.”
The best from Team Canada remains in the future, however, they were almost good enough two years ago led by Joseph and this year’s team will bring that experience plus a whole lot more raw talent with them. Expectations are high, the top two teams plus Brazil qualify for the 2016 Olympics and the Canadians are planning to be in Rio next summer.
Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.