Canadian basketball is all the rage these days, what with the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft (Anthony Bennett), the presumed No.1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft (Andrew Wiggins) and a host of teenagers playing at top-tier American high schools.
The explosion of basketball north of the border is still new and with it, the efforts to get the Canadian National Team, long an afterthought on the world stage, in a position to at least compete against world powers. That process will take years, but it began in earnest on Friday morning.
With the top four teams at the FIBA Americas Championship earning spots in next summer’s FIBA World Cup of Basketball, the Canadians opened play in Group A with an 85-64 win over Jamaica at Poliedro de Caracas in Venezuela.
Baylor senior guard Brady Heslip and San Antonio Spurs guard Cory Joseph each had 17 points, while Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson had 11 points and 12 rebounds. Joseph added 10 assists.
Canada has earned a medal five times in 15 trips to FIBA Americas, but only twice since 1989. Since winning bronze in 2001, it has finished no higher than fourth. If Canada is going to qualify for next summer in Spain, it is going to need to do so with a roster that cannot be defined as its ‘A’ team.
Bennett, who is nursing an injured shoulder, and Wiggins, who opted to prepare for his freshman season at Kansas University instead of playing with Team Canada, would presumably be cornerstones of the National Team next summer. That also goes for Boston Celtics rookie big man Kelly Olynyk, who also opted to skip Venezuela this summer.
Of course, there are several players involved at FIBA Americas that figure to be in the mix next summer, chief among them being Thompson and Joseph.
One high-profile wildcard for next summer is Myck Kabongo. After playing Summer League with the Miami Heat, the former University of Texas star was cut from Canada’s roster two weeks ago, but was slated to have a series of private workouts with Canadian Steve Nash, who is acting as the National Team’s General Manager.
Canada will play Puerto Rico on Saturday, Brazil on Sunday and Uruguay on Sunday to close out group play. The top four teams from each of the two groups advance to another round of pool play from Sept. 5-8. The semifinals are Sept. 10 with the championship and third-place games to take place on Sept. 11.
All four semifinalists are guaranteed spots next summer in Spain.