Don’t count those World Cup and Olympic medals just yet for Canada in men’s basketball.
Canada, featuring four NBA players with more coming in the years ahead, fell to 1-1 after an 83-67 loss Saturday to Puerto Rico at the Americas qualifier in Caracas, from which the top-four teams will advance to the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain.
With Steve Nash of Victoria now at the helm as GM and Jay Triano back coaching, this is considered by many the start of a golden era in Canadian hoops, with the goal being a medal by the 2020 Summer Olympics. That would be Canada’s first in basketball since Victoria players Doug Peden and Art and Chuck Chapman turned the trick at Berlin in 1936.
Two-time NBA MVP Nash himself came close at the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics during his decade on the court as Captain Canada with Triano coaching. As a player, Triano — along with Island players Eli Pasquale, Gerald Kazanowski and Greg Wiltjer — was fourth at the 1984 L.A. Olympics and sixth at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
But while the national team used to be largely Western-oriented in its previous golden era — with Pasquale, Kazanowski Wiltjer, Phil Ohl and Kelly Dukeshire from the Island, Triano out of SFU, Howard Kelsey from Vancouver and “King” Karl Tilleman from Calgary — the bulk of the national side is now mostly from the Toronto area.
And it’s got NBA credibility, with forwards Tristan Thompson of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Andrew Nicholson of the Orlando Magic, guard Cory Joseph of the San Antonio Spurs and NBA-champion Miami forward Joel Anthony.
Waiting in the wings for play in future years with Canada are currently injured players Anthony Bennett, the No. 1 overall pick this year in the NBA draft, and this year’s 13th overall NBA pick, Kelly Olynyk of Kamloops, one of the few left carrying the B.C. banner on the national side.
Andrew Wiggins, next year’s projected top NBA draft pick, said he wanted to prepare for his freshman NCAA season at Kansas and is not playing for Canada in Caracas. But once established, Wiggins is unlikely to be able to say no to a team headed by Nash and Triano.
While the national side is now mostly from Ontario, the brain trust is old-school from Western days. Nash and Triano have gone back to their B.C. roots to help fill out their staff. Along with veteran coach Joe RasoIan, Ian Hyde-Lay of Victoria was given the task of pre-scouting the other national sides in the FIBA Americas tournaments and travelled the summer throughout gyms and arenas in Latin America.
“On paper [looking to future worlds and Olympics], we have four NBA guys and two to three still to come,” said Hyde-Lay, who coached Nash at St. Michaels University School and still coaches hoops and rugby teams at SMUS. “The key is, it’s still on paper and a lot of work needs to be done.”
Every country has its share of slick players in basketball. And they don’t give a hoot about Canada’s perceived golden generation. Many nations feel they have comparable players to anything Canada can dish up.
“There are outstanding players in other countries, and these are guys who can seriously play while our guys are still adjusting to FIBA play,” Hyde-Lay said. “There are good players everywhere. These other teams know how to pass the ball.”
And he’s seen them up close in compiling his scouting reports on the other teams for Triano.
“Our pick and roll definitely has to be spot on,” Hyde-Lay said. “This is going to be a very tight competition.”
After an opening win against Jamaica on Friday and loss to Puerto Rico on Saturday, Canada continues against Brazil today and Uruguay on Tuesday in group play. The second-round begins later in the week.