The Canadian Senior Men’s National Basketball Team kicked off their summer program at the Air Canada Center on Sunday as they prepare for a jam packed four weeks of practices and games against top teams in Europe. After three days of practice in Toronto, Team Canada will arrive in Venice on Wednesday to begin a tour of friendly exhibition games against Slovenia, Ukraine, Georgia, Croatia, Serbia, Italy, Bosnia, Spain, Turkey and Angola before returning to Toronto on August 13. Now that Canada has a roster loaded with exciting young recognizable talent, getting exhibition games against top European teams isn’t a problem.
General Manager Steve Nash brings his wealth of international and NBA experience at the highest levels to this very young team and the 40-year-old Los Angeles Lakers point guard knows what it’s like to mentor young players.
Steve Nash audio:
“The whole reason or the primary reason we are here is to get these guys experience before next summer,” Nash said. “It’s a very young team, a team that has very little international experience. A lot of our players that could have big roles with this team haven’t even played at the highest levels internationally. The rules, the refereeing, the competition is completely different and they haven’t played together and that’s huge, so while we have a tremendous talent pool it’s a very difficult task to qualify for the Olympics. Conceivably there is one or two spots in the (FIBA) Americas to win, that could be an incredibly difficult task and our guys need a little experience, someone to give them a chance.”
For Nash and company, the games this summer don’t count for anything. Team Canada is playing strictly for the experience and winning games is well down on the list of priorities for now, but this tour is at a level of competition that even gets Nash excited.
“It is all about the experience,” Nash confirmed. “Obviously you try to win every game, but we are also going to play guys probably a lot of equal minutes, give everyone a lot of experience, try to understand what (Head Coach) Jay (Triano) is asking at both ends of the floor and learn (about) each other and gain experience at the international level. This is about as good a tour as you could possibly imagine, playing in great cities against great teams against top flight competition, so it’s an awesome tour for these guys to get a lot of experience and see the benchmark of top level international basketball.”
Team is so young that the 22-year-old Cory Joseph is considered to be one of the veterans, both in terms of international play and NBA experience. Some very young players are expected to do a lot for Canada very quickly.
“We have a very young team, so guys that have been in the NBA for two or three years, those are veterans on this team,” Nash said. “We are going to have to become a team that really comes together, has a great bond and leads together and pushes each other to get better and demands a lot of each other, but at the same time supports one another. We have to build a winning culture here and this is a new project. Every year new guys are coming in because of their ascent and it’s exciting because we have so much talent, but it not easy. These guys are all coming from very young perspectives trying to figure out where they are going with their career and their game, what team and club they are going to, what level they are going to play at whether it’s the NBA or Europe and some of these guys are still in college. That makes it trying in a lot of different ways, it makes the task more difficult, but this is just the start of a project that hopefully lasts decades.”
So all that development Team Canada is about to be going through means Nash and Triano will be doing a lot of teaching and more importantly, overall mentoring. A team full of young players means there will be issues to deal with beyond merely learning the next play and Nash is comfortable that he has been filling that role for years now.
“It’s natural and I think I’ve been a mentor for about 18 years now,” Nash said. “I’m 40 and I’ve been a veteran in the NBA for a long time, so I’ve had a lot of young players play on my teams or under me and I’ll always be there to try to share and help and give back.”
A new era for Canada Basketball is starting and the talent Nash and company has assembled is impressive enough to earn them a tour against the top National Teams in Europe as those teams prepare for the World Cup in Spain. However, it’s too early – or maybe premature – to set expectations in terms of wins and losses this summer as this tour is mostly for the experience. Team Canada is setting their sights on the FIBA Americas tournament next summer and trying to qualify for the Olympics. Nash and Triano have a lot of mentoring to do over the next four weeks and they are beyond excited about it.