Basketball: NBA-stocked Canada team plays China in Victoria exhibition match

Eight of the 12 Canadian NBA players are expected in the lineup when Canada plays China at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre on June 24 in an international exhibition basketball game.

The two-game Pacific Rim Classic opens June 22 when Canada plays China at Rogers Arena in Vancouver before the Sunday 5 p.m. game on Blanshard Street. Canada is readying for key Americas regional qualifying games this summer for the 2019 FIBA World Cup, out of which seven teams will qualify directly to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. China, managed by former NBA great Yao Ming, receives an automatic berth into the 2019 World Cup as host.

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“We are 3-1 so far in group play and this is a vital first step for us,” said Rowan Barrett, assistant GM and executive vice-president of the men’s national team program, as Canada prepares for the World Cup qualifiers June 29 in the Dominican Republic and July 2 against the U.S. Virgin Islands at The Arena at TD Place in Toronto.

“There is such rich history of basketball in Victoria, with so many championship teams,” said Barrett, about the decision to come to the Island for the China series.

“We want to inspire children across the country.”

It is the first time the national team has played in B.C. in eight years.

“The Golden Age starts when we start winning gold medals,” said Barrett, whose son, R.J. Barrett, will attend Duke this fall as a freshman and is a potential No. 1 pick for the 2019 NBA draft.

That has already begun with Canada winning gold in the FIBA U-19 World Cup to be named the Canadian team of the year for 2018 as voted on by the member newspapers of the Canadian Press. Barrett noted that was only the third time a Canadian men’s team has played in a basketball championship game at a world tournament since the 1936 Berlin Olympics, when Victoria players Doug Peden and Art and Chuck Chapman won silver, and 1983 World University Games, when UVic Vikes players Gerald Kazanowski, Eli Pasquale and Kelly Dukeshire won gold.

“Clearly, we believe we have the talent coming up to compete,” said Barrett.

The current batch isn’t bad, either.

Playing at Memorial Centre next month will be Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets, Kelly Olynyk of the Miami Heat, Tristan Thompson of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dwight Powell of the Dallas Mavericks, Khem Birch of the Orlando Magic, Chris Boucher of the Golden State Warriors, Dillon Brooks of the Memphis Grizzlies and Cory Joseph of the Indiana Pacers. Other names of note include former NBA player Anthony Bennett and Germany and Italy pro brothers Tommy and Phil Scrubb of Richmond. Unavailable for June are NBA players Andrew Wiggins, Nik Stauskas, Trey Lyles and Tyler Ennis.

“Canada has the most players in the NBA outside of the U.S. We want to see that talent come to fruition,” said Barrett.

“But it’s not a matter of just throwing names on a roster. It’s about building a strong team and being a team. The FIBA game is so much more different than the NBA game, with a lot more clutching and grabbing. We need players who can handle that and push through that to victory.”

Canada is coached by former Simon Fraser University star player Jay Triano.

“Some of the fondest memories of my basketball career are from all the years I spent playing and coaching in B.C.,” said Triano.

“Vancouver and Victoria have some of the most passionate basketball fans in the country and we're excited to bring our team back to the West Coast.”

Barrett played in the 2000 Sydney Olympics with his good friend and two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash of Victoria. He said national team co-GM Nash is trying to be in B.C. for the games against China.

Tourism Victoria president and CEO Paul Nursey said this is a “good early win” for the new Greater Victoria Sports Tourism Commission, headed by Keith Wells.

“This all started with a conversation during the recent Canada Sevens women’s rugby tournament [at Westhills Stadium in Langford]. We feel this is a good fit for us and put a significant proposal forward to beat out Winnipeg for this basketball game,” said Nursey.

“We’re still under discussion for the final [financial] details.”

Tickets for the game in Victoria are priced at several levels and range from $25 to $175 for courtside. They go on sale Thursday at 10 a.m. through selectyourtickets.com, or at the arena box office or by phoning 250-220-7777.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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