Dort plans on being the stopper for host Canada in Olympic hoops qualifier in Victoria

There is a traffic stoplight outside Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre at the intersection of Blanshard and Caledonia streets. Inside the arena will be a human red light named Luguentz Dort.

The six-foot-three guard of the Oklahoma City Thunder may not be among the most well-known names on the NBA-studded Canadian team headed to Victoria for the Tokyo Olympics qualifying tournament from June 29 to July 4, but the defensive-minded Montreal native will be among the most quietly important. That’s despite never having been drafted and never having played for Canada at any level. “I take pride in playing defence,” Dort said during a Zoom call with reporters from the Canadian team’s training camp in Tampa, Florida, on Saturday.

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Canada head coach Nick Nurse has noticed. The Toronto Raptors mentor is a big believer in defence being the great separator between teams in any sport.

“[Dort] is really good,” said Nurse. “A lot of defence is about desire and [Dort] has a lot of desire to play defence.”

Dort’s stifling defence against LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers, resulting in an air-ball three-point attempt in overtime, gained wide notice and comment this season.

While the superstar James has two Olympic gold medals and a bronze for the United States, Dort reflected on his impending Canada debut.

“I didn’t play for Team Canada [at the youth levels] growing up,” said the 22-year-old son of Haitian immigrants. “This is my first time and a great opportunity to represent the country. I never grew up seeing a chance to go to the Olympics.”

Dort will get that opportunity if Canada advances to Tokyo through winning the Olympic qualifier by topping the tournament in Victoria that will also include Greece, China, Uruguay, Turkey and the Czech Republic.

Canada is attempting to get back to the Olympics in men’s basketball for the first time since captain Steve Nash of Victoria guided the national squad to the 2000 Games in Sydney and a 5-2 record blighted only by a heartbreaking quarter-final loss to eventual silver medallist France. Previous high-water marks in Canadian Olympic hoops included Victoria players Doug Peden and Art and Chuck Chapman winning the silver medal in the 1936 Berlin Games; former University of Victoria greats Eli Pasquale, Gerald Kazanowski and Greg Wiltjer making the semifinals against Michael Jordan and the U.S. at Los Angeles in 1984; and Pasquale and Kazanowski placing sixth at Seoul in 1988.

The Canadian team will break camp in Florida this week and arrive in Victoria on Friday.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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