Silver a landmark on road to Rio

TORONTO – A successful Pan American Games for Canada Basketball concluded with the men’s team donning silver medals after an 86-71 loss to Brazil.

“We put ourselves in a position where we’re the first team to win a medal at the Pan American Games in the history of the men’s program,” said coach Jay Triano after the game.

“We’re disappointed it’s not gold but at the same time I think it was a great two weeks for us.”

Canada was led by Anthony Bennett who finished with 18 points and nine rebounds. Also in double figures were Jamal Murray (12), Dillon Brooks (11), Andrew Nicholson (11) and Melvin Ejim (10). Three Brazilian players finished with 13 points. FULL STATS HERE.

Canada receives their Silver medals at the Pan Am Games | image via Canada Basketball
Canada receives their Silver medals at the Pan Am Games | image via Canada Basketball

A slow start for the Canadian team put them in a hole they could never recover from. Open shots kept rimming out and frustration built while shooting just 23% in the first half and trailing by 19.

Ultimately the Brazilian side won with their unselfish ball movement repeatedly exposing Canada burying midrange jumpers out of pick and rolls. Brazil finished with 25 assists to just 11 for Canada.

A medal at these Games, no matter what colour, is a significant accomplishment for a Canadian team that had finished no better than 6th in international competitions in the past five years.

Before Friday’s semi final game Jay Triano had his players stand and look at the names in their lockers. They represented those who had worn their number before in Pan Am competition. None of those had won a Pan Am medal.

And it’s a token of accomplishment before the FIBA Americas tournament coming at the end of August where an Olympic berth is on the line.

“I think it helps,” Steve Nash said of the Pan Am Games as a prelude to FIBA Americas. “All the guys involved are obviously disappointed right now but they’re going to leave here in a few days and they’re going to feel great about the experience and be better for it and be pumped up to play for their country again.”

FIBA Americas will be played in Mexico City August 31 to September 12 where the top two teams automatically qualify for the Rio Olympics and four more teams enter another qualifying tournament just before the Olympics.

How to qualify for the Olympics
How to qualify for the Olympics

“I think the team is going to be drastically different,” said Triano. “I think we gave a lot of guys the opportunity to put on the Canadian jersey who will wear it in the future and some guys who have been in the program who might not wear it again.”

Nicholson and Bennett represent Canada at the Pan Am Games | image FIBA/ Reel Motion Imaging
Nicholson and Bennett represent Canada at the Pan Am Games | image FIBA/ Reel Motion Imaging

Andrew Nicholson ought to be on the FIBA Americas roster. He was a steady workhorse during this tournament, though he fouled out early in the Final contest. His ability to toss up a hook shot in the post or shoot from outside is tailor-made for the international game.

Anthony Bennett is another player who played well on both ends showing his strength and skill. He showed a willingness to exhaust himself for Canada and it didn’t go unnoticed.

The biggest surprise standout was Jamal Murray whose emergence ensured Canada a medal.

“From my perspective age doesn’t matter,” said Murray. “My body is young and my mind is young so I’m learning a lot from the older heads on our team and know how to play against physical guys.”

Seeing the buzz in the crowd was big for Nik Stauskas, Tyler Ennis and Cory Joseph who were all seated in the front row for the final along with Kia Nurse, Tamara Tatham and several members of the women’s team. They looked like they wanted to be on the court, a last-second decision Brady Heslip is glad he made.

“I’m grateful I had a chance to come into training camp a couple days late and be a part of this team with these great guys,” said Brady Heslip. “To play in front of my family for five nights in a row is amazing and it’s always great playing at home.”

The legacy of these Games will be Canada’s “Road Warriors” playing at home for the first time in a long time, the first time for many long-time members of Canada Basketball.

It will also be remembered by many as the first time they saw the young stars of Canada on the road to Rio and beyond, with greater aspirations for Canadian basketball just on the horizon.

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