The Canadian men’s national team celebrated the Canada Day weekend by winning back to back games on Canadian soil as part of the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers. Here’s our recap of the weekend.
GAME 1 – Canada vs. Dominican Republic
On Friday night, the team, made up of NBA and international players, showed why they should be considered a rising force in the global basketball ranks with a convincing 97 – 61 win over the Dominican Republic at the Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto.
Canada was by no means dominant for the entire game as the final score might suggest. Dominican Republic made things interesting by getting the score to 10 points in the third quarter which brought Dominican Republic fans to their feet, flags waving, letting their team know they had support in the stands.
It didn’t last as Canada went on a run in the fourth quarter to close out the game in dominant fashion.
Kelly Olynyk, RJ Barrett, Dillon Brooks, and Melvin Ejim all led Canada with 14 points, while Barrett and Andrew Nembhard (though the latter didn’t have a perfect game), displayed talent that have so many fans excited for what this team could look like in the coming years.
GAME 2 – Canada vs. U.S. Virgin Islands
The Canadian team then travelled down Highway 401 for a Sunday afternoon game against the U.S. Virgin Islands at TD Place Arena in the nation’s capital.
The dominance they exhibited in Toronto continued in Ottawa. Kelly Olynyk once again led the team with 14 points, joining Cory Joseph as the defacto leader of the team in the absence of Tristan Thompson. Even on the sidelines, he was often seen standing and encouraging his teammates, and even stopped to make sure the cleaning team were doing their job cleaning the sweat off the floor. RJ Barrett and Dillon Brooks finished with 13 and 12 points respectively as Canada came out on top 99 – 69 win.
The highlight of the afternoon was brought to you by Duke commit, RJ Barrett, who hit Miami Heat centre Kelly Olynyk with a smooth behind the back pass in transition that Olynyk finished with a dunk over an opposing player.
Although these were decisive, back-to-back 30-point wins, it still remains to see whether Canada has reached the level it needs to compete with the United States, as well as elite teams from Europe and other traditional global powers.
Many basketball analysts were calling this team the deepest and most talented team Canada has ever assembled. It could’ve been even more dominant with the help of former #1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins (the highest paid athlete in our nation’s history), as well as Tristan Thompson and Jamal Murray.
Thompson and Murray were originally expected to play but made way for RJ Barrett and Andrew Nembhard, captain of Canada’s silver medal team at last month’s FIBA U18 Championship. Thompson has played deep in the playoffs for the past three seasons, and just went to the NBA Finals, so his absence is understandable. Wiggins and Canadian sharp shooter Nik Stauskas are rumoured to have a rift with current coach Jay Triano for past in-game decisions that saw both players stay on the bench for crucial stretches of important international matches.
Rift or not, Canada Basketball has to find a way to get all their best players on the court together consistently as they eventually face stiffer competition. Wiggins is the type of player that makes the difference between making the Olympics and FIBA World Cup or not (this has already been proven in qualifying games Wiggins didn’t play in leading up to the 2016 Rio Olympics, for which Canada failed to secure a bid).
I can’t overstate how bright and deep the future is, but coach Triano and Canada Basketball need to some how convince their best talent to get on board with the vision.
The win puts Canadian men’s national basketball team at the top of their Group D standings in the qualifying round with a 5-1 record and +153 point differential. Canada’s next FIBA World Cup Qualifying match will be September.
Written with notes from Kevin Bourne