Tough Road To Rio for Canada
When Canada fell short at last summer’s FIBA Americas Championship in a heartbreaking loss to Venezuela they missed their bid at a spot in the 2016 Olympics.
But they have one last shot to make it to Rio and now they have an answer for where and who they’ll be playing after the official draw was unveiled.
Playing in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, the Canadians will have to overcome competition from their hosts as well as FIBA 5th-ranked France and 8th-ranked Turkey. Even New Zealand ranks 21st in FIBA’s official rank, ahead of Canada at 26th.
“We didn’t get the job done last summer,” Cory Joseph of the Toronto Raptors and 2015 Team Canada captain said in an official release. “We’ve got work to do, this will be a tough tournament with a lot on the line, but we want to represent the red and white in Rio this summer.”
It’s a tough grouping but playing Serbia in Serbia would have been tougher, and Italy is the only team FIBA ranks lower than Canada in their bracket where they play hosts.
International experience last summer plus one more year of NBA development should steel the developing roster of Canadian talent but it remains a tall task, especially if not all the best players are able to attend.
“Who we get and how we get them will depend on how NBA teams do in the playoffs,” said head coach Jay Triano on conference call following the announcement. “Ideally we’d start training in June and some guys could still be playing at that time.”
“Every team that has NBA players will have difficulty with free agents this summer [ed. think Tristan Thompson last summer]. Players playing without a signed contract is going to be an issue and the same goes for France and Turkey.”
One name that we’ll have to wait on is Kentucky freshman Jamal Murray who was Canada’s best player at the Pan Am Games, but missed the FIBA Americas to report to campus. He could have similar obligations to the NBA team that drafts him this June.
Canada Basketball will try to set up some exhibition friendlies possibly on Canadian soil but it’s unclear where they’ll train with Edmonton’s Saville Centre facilities housing the women’s team and the new Raptors training facility just opening in Toronto.
Triano hopes to run a 10-day training camp at minimum, adding one week to fit three or four exhibition games, hopefully not travelling because the trip to The Philippines would be enough and travel wears teams down.
“The majority of Canadians that played for us last summer seem to be having pretty good years,” said Triano. “I get messages from GMs and different people thanking us for what we did for their players.”
Last year two tournaments was too much for some NBA teams to stomach lending their stars to with Pan Ams meaning little for Olympic standing. This time around the OQT’s are July 4-10 and the Olympics soon after, August 5-21. And players really really want to play in the Olympics so they’ll have to commit to both.
For Triano’s team it’ll be a test under extreme pressure. The young team has cracked before but a stellar performance in Manila would put them right back on track.