A veteran Spain team led by Marc Gasol and Ricky Rubio came out on top after their 95-75 win over Argentina to win their second International Basketball Federation (FIBA) World Cup. Sunday morning’s gold medal game capped off a rare tournament that — for once — saw no clear-cut favourite. It was refreshing, considering the way these international tournaments tend to go; the U.S. is leaps and bounds better than everyone else, and all the other countries are essentially playing for silver and bronze. This year was the first time since 2006 that the U.S. didn’t win gold (Spain won in ‘06, too), and the first time they didn’t medal since 2002.
Now the U.S.’ talent pool was still significantly better than anyone else’s, hence why they could still afford to have a competitive team consisting of entirely NBA players even with many of their top 25 players dropping out. Canada on the other hand, cannot afford such luxuries; Canada only had two of their 18 NBA players show up for this tournament.
Seeing the U.S. finish seventh in this tournament makes it all the more frustrating as a Canadian basketball fan who wants to watch them play in Tokyo next summer. This tournament was theirs for the taking! Should the U.S. have steamrolled everyone like they usually do? Yes, but the Americans also suffered from “I’m-just-going-to-workout-with-my-5’7”-trainer-instead-itis”, and gave other countries a legitimate chance to win. Canada doesn’t have the depth, or frankly the arrogance, to say “you know what, we’ll be fine without me”, and skip out on these Olympic qualifier events. I mean, even Iran qualified for the Olympics.
If everybody showed up to play, the Canadian roster would look something like this: Jamal Murray, R.J. Barrett, Andrew Wiggins (who’s close to losing his citizenship at this point), Tristan Thompson, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Cory Joseph, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Dwight Powell, Kelly Olynyk, Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke and Khem Birch.
That’s an all-NBA roster, with another six on the outside looking in. Instead, head coach Nick Nurse only had the services of two of those 12 players (Joseph and Birch). In defence of Olynyk, he did plan to play but got hurt during an exhibition game in August. Is there a chance of getting hurt? Of course. It happened to Olynyk. But you can’t tell me that all of these guys aren’t playing ball anyways. You can sprain an ankle just as easily playing pickup as you can in FIBA.
Now, I hate saying this, especially as someone who prefers basketball to hockey, but it’s 100 per cent true: no hockey player would ever skip out on playing for their country if they were healthy. Isn’t there a sense of pride in these guys? Canada has always been an underdog in basketball, and this is supposedly the golden age of Canadian basketball, yet we’re watching it go by with nothing to show for it.
Pun aside, this was such a golden opportunity to qualify for 2020. I will give credit to the guys who showed up — Kevin Pangos might have played his way to a potential NBA contract, the Scrubb brothers always make the OUA proud and captain Cory Joseph showed up to lead the team once again. But for those other NBA guys who didn’t show? I hope they all have outstanding NBA seasons and prove us all wrong for doubting their offseason choices. But it still sucks.