What went wrong for Canada in the Olympic basketball bid

17 NBA players hail from Canada, yet the national team failed to qualify for Olympic basketball this year. This comes as both a surprise and disappointment. The team now hasn’t qualified since Steve Nash led them to the 2000 Sydney Games. No team boasted as many NBA players as Canada’s eight, but that was not enough to get them by the Czech Republic in the semifinals of a qualifier. The Czechs feature one NBA player, Tomas Satoransky, who hit the game-winning shot in overtime against Canada. And now the Czechs are heading to Tokyo while the Canadians watch from home. Instead of potentially finishing the summer with a medal, Canadian basketball is left with only questions.

Missing stars

Dec 14, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) handles the ball as Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) defends in the third quarter at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Russell Lansford-USA TODAY Sports
Russell Lansford-USA TODAY Sports

Canada has some rising stars in the NBA. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a promising point guard, although he doesn’t receive much recognition playing for the Thunder. OKC’s precipitous second-half tank took the shine off of Gilgeous-Alexander’s strong performance, but he is a great player. He severely tore his plantar fascia in May and is still recovering. The Canadian team also missed its best scorer, Jamal Murray. He was out with a torn ACL. Just as the Nuggets struggled without his shot creation, so too did the Canadians, who didn’t have a scorer of his caliber. Dillon Brooks is a lockdown defender and solid shooter but opted out of the qualifying tournament. Two of Canada’s best big men, Tristan Thompson and Kelly Olynyk, both sat out the qualifier as well.

Even with all of these stars missing, Canada still featured one of the best basketball teams in the Olympic qualifiers. Led by former number one pick Andrew Wiggins and Knicks rising star RJ Barrett, expectations remained high for this team. Lu Dort, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and Dwight Powell are all solid NBA role players for their respective NBA teams and filled the same role for the Candian national squad. While these guys lack the star power of their missing countrymen, they still feature more NBA talent than any other non-USA team. So the folks working for Canada Basketball cannot blame this Olympic failure on injuries alone.

Lack of commitment

One of the main issues plaguing Canada Basketball as they try to reach the Olympic games is a lack of chemistry. While many other nations play tournaments regularly, the Canadian men rarely commit to international play. International success is the ultimate goal for teams like the Czech Republic (or Luka Doncic and Slovenia). For Canadians, the NBA is the dream, and international competition is an afterthought. While the same is true for the USA, that team features many of the top players in the world. They are a juggernaut that cannot be rivaled. For everyone else, chemistry is important. The Canadians cannot just walk onto a court together and expect to beat cohesive units.

“Maturity, experience all count. Playing together counts. My hope (is) what they got out of this was motivation, both the guys that were here and the guys that couldn�t, but they need to stick with it.”

-CEO of Canada Basketball, Glen Grunwald, after Canada’s loss to the Czech Republic

When many Canadian NBA players backed out of international play, it becomes difficult for the team to establish identity. Spain has built around the Gasol brothers and Ricky Rubio. Argentina built around Manu Ginobili on their way to a championship. France has had some dominant cores in the past two decades. And each of these guys committed to giving their all for their country. Canada needs its stars to do the same.

�I think (it�s) communicating with the players and their circle of influence, making sure they understand the importance of all these tournaments, whether it�s AmeriCup next August or the World Cup or the qualifiers.�

-Glen Grunwald on building a stronger core

A tough, close, loss

While Canada Basketball has bigger issues than just one game, their loss in the Olympic qualifiers was a heartbreaker. After trailing throughout their semifinal game, Canada made a dramatic ten-point comeback in the final minute. It seemed they had snatched all the momentum away from the Czechs. However, in the overtime period, the Czechs pulled out a two-point win on an equally improbable game-winner.

While Canadian basketball has systemic issues, that is a heartbreaking way to lose a game. They were in a close and competitive game against a pretty solid team with the Czech Republic. While the Canadians had the raw talent advantage, they lacked the same chemistry. The fact that the young Candian team showed such resilience is a promising sign for the future.

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