Bright Future For Canada Basketball
Needed changes coming to the neighbor to the north’s national program.
by Sam Riches / @sam_riches
“We just have to admit it, we suck at basketball.”
Riding the Toronto subway and sandwiched between a rather robust gentleman reading the paper to my left and a young lady blaring Lady Gaga’s, “Born This Way” to my right, I was suddenly intrigued by the conversation around me.
“People just don’t care. If they cared, the program would be better.”
I slyly leaned forward and then backward trying to catch a glimpse of who was speaking, though all I could see was a mix of shoulders and the backs of heads.
“Steve Nash hasn’t played for like seven years, our roster is a bunch of nobodies.”
No Nash, a bunch of ‘nobodies.’ I clued in. The man in question was talking about Canada’s national basketball team. Yes, we have one of those.
“They lost to Panama, man. Panama!”
This was true. Earlier in the day, what little chance Canada had at capturing a spot at the 2012 Olympics had been squandered. Our hopes crushed at the hands of Panama. A squad that boasts only one NBA player, Gary Forbes of the Denver Nuggets. Forbes tore into Canada, scoring 39 points while consistently finding his way into the paint and creating scoring opportunities for his teammates.
With the loss Canada was granted an exodus from FIBA Americas Tournament in Argentina. A 10-team tournament in which the top-two teams are granted a position in next year’s Olympics, while the teams that finish third to fifth get another qualification shot at FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
For Canada, the Americas Tournament was a chance to return to Olympic play for the first time since the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
After the game, the floodgates opened. Fans called for Leo Rautins’ head. (Rautins has been the national head coach for the past six years.) They wanted to know where Steve Nash was (he was at soccer practice), where Tristan Thompson was, where Jamaal Magloire was, where Samuel Dalembert was, and where, ultimately, the sense of national pride was.
They have a right to be upset. Canada’s basketball team has medalled only once in the Olympics. And that was at the Berlin Games in 1936. Currently the national team is ranked 23rd in the world. That’s three spots below Iran, four spots below Croatia, and five spots below New Zealand.
There is NBA talent on the roster, (we’ve come a long way since Bart Simpson and Milhouse suited up for us), but it’s far from the best product that could be on the floor.
Just hours after the game, and in obvious response to the turn of events, an emotional Leo Rautins announced his resignation as head coach.
“The players have given me everything that I’ve asked but I think for the benefit of this program going forward, a new voice in the locker room will be the best thing,” he said in a post-game conference call.
“We have to, in our country, look at playing for the national team as an honor and something that is very special.”
And there is hope that message will resonate with the next generation of talent. The potential of Canada’s program is arguably the best it’s ever been, with the likes of Thompson, Kevin Pangos, Myck Kabongo, Andrew Wiggins, Khem Birch and Kyle Wiltjer waiting in the wings. Not to mention Kelly Olynyk, Cory Joseph and Jevon Shepherd who all played well in spurts during the tournament. The future of the program is in capable hands and with basketball being the fastest growing sport in the nation for children aged 5-14, there is reason to believe that the momentum could continue to build.
But right now, it’s not pretty.
With the elimination, the national team will enter a state of rebuilding. Their next meaningful game won’t be until 2013 when they attempt to qualify for the 2014 World Championships. The silver lining being that the down time will allow the program to focus on developing a younger and more potential-laden core of talent, recruit a new coach and build a stronger foundation for future success.
The talent that is in Canada’s system has the potential to elevate the team’s international standing, and hopefully finally provide Canadians with a reason to give a damn. But until that happens, we are stuck pointing accusatory fingers and attempting to place blame.
Realistically, it would have been an impressive accomplishment if the current roster of youngsters and low-level European league talent had found their way into a top spot at this tournament. Canadians have a right to demand the best from their national team but with the program in flux, expectations can only be so high.
It was certainly a disappointing finish and losing our final game to the only team that had gone winless in the tournament added insult to injury. But the future carries with it the potential to stop the bleeding and turn the program around. The keyword being, potential—only time will reveal the truth.
As the subway creaked to a stop, the man in question finally revealed himself. Standing around 5-5 and perhaps predictably, donning a dark blue Toronto Maple Leafs t-shirt, he left his friend with one final comment.
“If they ever actually get it together, I’ll pay attention. I’m just getting really tired of waiting.”
Patience, my friends, is a virtue.