NBA stars expected to play in Victoria at Olympic-qualifying tournament

Canadian NBA stars are expected to play in Victoria next summer at an Olympic qualifying tournament after an Island businessman provided a large portion of the money needed to stage the competition.

The event, set for June 23-28 at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, is one of four world-wide FIBA Olympic-qualifying tournaments.

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A source told the Times Colonist that the International Basketball Association, known as FIBA, is charging a $3-million fee for the tournament. An unnamed businessman and basketball booster has fronted a significant portion of that fee.

The team lineup won’t be named until next year, but National Basketball Association players from Canada are expected to make themselves available for the crucial tournament, in advance of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

They could include names such as Andrew Wiggins of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets or R.J. Barrett of the New York Knicks.

The current NBA season has more Canadians participating than ever before — there were a record 20 players from Canada on opening-night rosters.

It’s unclear which players will commit to playing, but team executives — general manager Rowan Barrett, father of R.J. Barrett, among them — are expecting Canada to compete for medals at the Olympics in 2020 and 2024.

Ticket information and schedule for the Victoria tournament will be announced Nov. 27.

Ken Shields, former Canadian national team and University of Victoria coach, predicts Canada’s NBA players will play in the qualifier. Most of them didn’t participate in the 2019 FIBA World Cup this summer in China, citing a variety of reasons.

“Not having to travel overseas for the qualifier and having the home-nation crowd behind them will be huge for our national team,” Shields said.

“They grew up playing basketball here. Their country needs them. All the other teams in the world will have their NBA players.”

Canada has not qualified for the Olympics in men’s basketball since two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash of Victoria captained Canada at the Sydney Games in 2000.

“Where is a better place for our team to come to for Olympic qualifying than at the hometown of Steve Nash?” said Shields, adding the Canadian players will have full access to the University of Victoria’s Centre for Athletics, Recreation and Special Abilities for their training camp. “They will be well looked after here.”

The other three FIBA qualifying tournaments will be held in June at Split, Croatia; Kaunas, Lithuania; and Belgrade, Serbia.

Each tournament will feature six teams, comprising of the top-ranked 24 nations that have not yet qualified for Tokyo 2020. The winner of each tournament will qualify for the Olympic Games next summer in Japan.

The 2019 FIBA World Cup produced seven direct qualifiers for the 12-team 2020 Tokyo Olympic tournament — Argentina, Australia, Spain, France, Iran, Nigeria and the U.S. Host Japan receives an automatic berth.

The Victoria qualifier will be chaired by UVic athletic director Clint Hamilton.

“This is an unbelievable story for the region,” said Hamilton. “Everybody thought this would be in Toronto or Vancouver. This will again showcase us to the world.”

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said the region’s attributes will be highlighted through stories broadcast by the international media. “This is fantastic news and a testament to the strength of our region’s sport community,” Helps said in a statement. “Twelve Olympic and Paralympic sports have their national training centres in Greater Victoria.”

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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