The Canadian National Basketball team may have run into a detour in Mexico City, but remain undeterred from their goal of an Olympic berth for Rio 2016. Team Canada have not competed in an Olympics since 2000, but the tall maples are possibly fielding their best young roster of talent in the program’s history.
Under the helm of Niagara native and head coach Jay Triano, Canada finished third in the FIBA Americas tourney but missed out on automatically qualifying for next year’s Olympiad. It was an emotional loss in the semi-finals to Venezuela that prevented the automatic bid. Decided on free throws in the final second of play, Gregory Vargas broke a 78-78 tie as Venezuela would go on to their first FIBA Americas championship.
As animating as their loss was to Venezuela, Canada bounced back in equally sensational style, beating the host Mexican team with a Cory Joseph (Toronto, ON – Toronto Raptors) buzzer-beater for the bronze medal.
Canada touts a highly talented corps of NBA players and draftees featuring Joseph, Andrew Wiggins (Concord, ON – Minnesota Timberwolves), and Kelly Olynyk (Kamloops, BC – Boston Celtics). Coach Triano is assisted by Dave Smart, the most highly decorated coach in Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) history, is supported by Steve Nash as General Manager. Wiggins finished fifth in tournament scoring 15.1 points per contest, with Olynyk and Philadelphia 76er Nik Stauskas (Mississauga, ON) also averaging double digits for the tourney.
The national team was also without NBA players Tristian Thompson (contract conflict) and Tyler Ennis (had surgery on his shoulder in May), and college freshman Jamal Murray. The University of Kentucky star put up a great performance for Canada at the Pan American Games, however, NCAA rules stated that Murray had to be in class by a certain date, that conflicted with the FIBA schedule.
This is a team that will continue to improve with another year of professional basketball under them, both in the NBA and Europe. This year’s senior roster even featured two CIS products: former Carleton Ravens Aaron Doornekamp (Napanee, ON) and Phil Scrubb (Richmond, BC). The Niagara connection with Triano goes deeper with his nephew Brady Heslip (Burlington, ON) on the senior men’s team. The former Baylor Bear guard plays professionally in Italy and finished the FIBA tournament averaging 10.7 points per game.
Canada has not medaled in basketball at the Olympics since 1936 in Berlin, Germany. The team won silver at these Olympics after a 19-8 loss to the Americans. Their last Olympic appearance came in 2000 when they finished seventh. The last time the team contended for a medal at the Summer Olympic Games was in 1984 at the Los Angeles Olympics. The team finished fourth that year and also had a similar finish in 1976 in Montreal.
Despite the disappointing finish at the FIBA Americas, Canada’s basketball program had one of its most successful summers to date. The under-16/17 development team won a silver medal at the 2015 FIBA Americas U16 championship. The under-18/19 team had its best finish this summer, placing in fifth. The women’s national team successfully qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics by winning the FIBA Americas Women’s Championship held in Edmonton this past summer.
The bronze medal was the first podium finish at the FIBA Americas for the Red and White since 2001 however, which puts Canada into one of three Olympic qualifying tournaments scheduled for July 5-10, 2016. If they can win their respective six-team tournament, Team Canada will be Brazil-bound. Their final shot at Rio may be determined in friendly confines as Canada Basketball mulls over bidding for one of the qualifiers. In order to qualify, they must submit their interest to FIBA by Sept. 28 and the deadline for official bids is in November.