The NBA-loaded Canadian men’s basketball team, coached by Nick Nurse of the Toronto Raptors, is returning to Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre on Aug. 25 for the first game of the second-round of Americas regional qualifying for the 2023 World Cup. And this time fans will be allowed to fill the building, knock on hardwood.
The last-chance Tokyo Olympics qualifying tournament, played at the height of the pandemic last summer in the Memorial Centre, was spectator restricted.
“After the FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament was significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, we promised that we would bring our senior men’s national team back to B.C.,” Canada Basketball CEO and president Michael Bartlett said in a statement.
“We saw firsthand last summer the passion for basketball across all the surrounding municipalities that make up the Greater Victoria area. We’re thrilled to come back later this summer as we continue our journey towards qualifying for the FIBA World Cup 2023, and ultimately the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.”
The top seven teams in the 2023 World Cup will advance to join host France in the 12-team Paris Olympic tournament. The final four teams will be decided in last-chance qualifiers, something Canada wants to avoid this time around after losing in a shock upset last summer to the Czech Republic on Blanshard Street. The goal for Nick Nurse’s crew now is to go through the front door to Paris 2024 through the 2023 World Cup in Japan and the Philippines.
Canada has advanced to the second round of World Cup qualifying by going 5-0 in the first round, against mostly minnows, following Friday night’s 95-75 victory over the Dominican Republic in Hamilton, Ont.
Canada currently leads Group C in the first qualifying round. The top three teams in Group A and Group C will merge to form a new Group E in the second round. The opposition for the second-round Aug. 25 game won’t be decided until the conclusion of the first qualifying round. If Canada remains in first place, it will meet second place in Group A, which will be either Argentina or Venezuela.
The 16 teams in the Americas second-round will play over two rounds, with the three top teams from each group, and the top fourth-placed team, qualifying for the FIBA World Cup from Aug. 25 to Sept. 10, 2023, with group games in Japan and the Philippines and the playoff rounds in Manila.
The NBA players in the game versus the Dominican Republic on Friday were Nickeil Alexander-Walker of the Utah Jazz, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kelly Olynyk of the Detriot Pistons and Dwight Powell of the Dallas Mavericks. The bulk of the load through the first round was carried by veteran European pros such as Conor Morgan of Victoria and Phil and Thomas Scrubb of Richmond.
The rest of the Canadian NBA players are expected to join the fray beginning with the first second-round game in Victoria. In addition to Alexander-Walker, Powell, Olynyk and Gilgeous-Alexander, other NBA players who have committed through to the 2023 World Cup and 2024 Paris Olympics cycle are Jamal Murray, R.J. Barrett, Khem Birch, Luguentz Dort, Oshae Brissett, Kevin Pangos and Cory Joseph. Missing from the roster so far is Andrew Wiggins, who played in the Olympic qualifier last summer in Victoria, and won the NBA championship this season with the Golden State Warriors.
The so-called Golden Generation has so far been underachieving and Canada has not been to the Olympics in men’s basketball since captained at Sydney 2000 by two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash of Victoria. This is the cycle in which Nurse’s squad hopes to reverse that storyline.
Tickets sales for the qualifying game in Victoria begin July 15. Information is at @wethewestfest on social media or wethewestfest.ca