Why Can't Canada Get Its Best Hoops Players On Board For 2020 Olympics Push?
The NBA season is upon us. And if you haven’t noticed, Canada is on the verge of becoming a hoops nation. Or maybe we should say Hoops Nation. But there are lingering questions of whether Basketball Canada can get its act together to employ all the best talent the nation is providing.
The Canadian men’s national team, still without the cream of its NBA talent on the court all at once, ran its record in FIBA World Cup qualifying to 7-1 with wins in Chile and back at home against a powerful Brazil team. Veterans Kelly Olynyk, Brady Heaslip and Tristan Thompson joined with Jamal Murray, R.J. Barrett and a youth brigade of Canada’s program in the wins.
The dramatic triumphs were a contrast to the days when Canada fielded Steve Nash and a handful of collegiate players against NBA-laden or veteran European opposition in forlorn hope attempts. The plan is Canada gets a win its qualifier against Venezuela on Nov. 30 and is then able to count on its NBA and NCAA stats such as Andrew Wiggins, Barrett, Cory Joseph and more for the World Cup next summer.
A top-eight finish in the World Cup would put Canada’s men into the Olympics for the first time since Sydney in 2000.
Indeed, there’s reason to be optimistic as basketball continues to grow as a participation and a spectator sport in Canada. The impact of the Toronto Raptors, among other factors, has produced a new generation of prospects who are selected at the top levels of the NBA draft. The latest young star, Barrett, is headed to the Duke powerhouse this season, and is expected to be among the top three picks next June in the draft.
Last spring’s NCAA March Madness was also loaded wth Canadian talent. There were 23 Canadians on rosters for the tournament, with players such as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of Kentucky, his cousin Nickeil Alexander-Walker of Virginia Tech, Kassius Robertson of Missouri, Kyle Alexander of Tennessee and Kimbal Mackenzie of Bucknell catching the eyes of scouts.
While hockey still has a death grip on Canada’s No. 1 sport, basketball is growing in popularity. Among the factors are the economics of the game— it’s much less expensive than hockey for a family, the surge in new Canadian urban communities who have less tradition with hockey and, crucially, the risk factors of concussions that blight hockey, football and even soccer these days.
NBA scouts and NCAA head coaches now flock to Toronto’s Brampton suburb, hotbed for so many of the new stars, to look for the next superstar. Should the pipeline stay full, it would only be a matter of time till a star-laden Canadian team is playing against the Americans in the Olympic or World Cup Final.
But there are real concerns that Basketball Canada— the body organizing the sport for men and women in Canada— will not be able to convince the top male stars to amend their schedules long enough to qualify for these events. There’s a reason Canada’s men are ranked 23rd in the world despite al the talent.
One of those reasons is Wiggins of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the biggest name in Canadian hoops, who has largely been a non-factor for Canada. While NBA guys like Olynyk played this summer, he didn’t play, and he hasn’t played for Canada since he had a falling-out with head coach Jay Triano in 2015.
So, too, is Nik Stauskas, the Portland Trailblazers shooting guard who also has not suited up since 2015 for his country. It’s assumed if the old reliables get Canada to the World Cup or even the Olympics, Wiggins, Stauskas and others will join up for a shot at high-profile glory.
Wiggins is still playing hard-to-get. His enigmatic personality vis a vis Basketball Canada reflects his performance since arriving in the NBA when he came in as a prospective superstar but has performed sporadically while feuding with players and the organization since.
To make Wiggins comes aboard, Basketball Canada has named former Raptors GM Glen Grunwald as the CEO and president. It’s hoped that someone with his NBA chops can get Wiggins and all the other young Canadian stars to pull on the oars together to have the men join the World Cup and, with any luck, the 2020 Olympics.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on his website is Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). He’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author whose new book Cap In Hand: How Salary Caps AreKilling Pro Sports And How The Free Market Could Save Them is now available this fall.