As discussed last week, the FIBA men’s basketball Olympic Qualifiers are underway this week and will run through July 4, determining each of the final four teams that will compete in Tokyo this summer.
From Day 1, the show-stealers were Team Canada, who entered the Victoria-based qualifier with the most NBA talent of the six teams, though they are currently ranked No. 21 in the world, behind, most notably Greece at No. 6, whom they defeated last night 97-91. Both teams, and seemingly everyone else in the qualifiers, are missing some of their top guys, like Giannis Antetokounmpo and his brother Thanasis for Greece, as well as Jamal Murray and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for Canada. Still, it’s been a growing notion that Team Canada is trending toward becoming an international basketball power, and while that has yet to be proven, it’s hard to dismiss them following last night.
A few weeks ago, betting odds at Bovada listed Greece as a +2500 underdog to win gold at the Olympics and Canada at +10,000, but that was irrelevant yesterday.
Andrew Wiggins, R.J. Barrett, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker combined for 63 of Canada’s points. Wiggins paced the offensive effort with a team-best 23 points on 9-for-16 shooting from the field and 3-for-6 from three. Barrett netted 22 points, 19 of which came in the second half, on 8-of-14 shooting, hitting 7-for-8 from two and 5-for-7 from the free-throw line. Alexander-Walker, who came off the bench, added 18 points on a 7-for-12 display.
Other current NBA players who appeared representing the Canadian roster were Luguentz Dort, Dwight Powell, Cory Joseph, Mychal Mulder, and Trey Lyles. In fact, everyone on the Canadian team has played in the NBA outside of Aaron Doornekamp and Trae Bell-Haynes, both of whom are productive international pros. Of the notable NBA alums on Team Canada: The 2013 draft’s No. 1 overall pick, Anthony Bennett.
Canada is as talented as any one of the 23 teams (Senegal dropped out due to four COVID positives) vying for the final four spots. As talented as they’ve become over the last 20 years — head coach Nick Nurse calls it the golden age of Canadian basketball — they haven’t appeared in the Olympics since 2000. That roster was highlighted by R.J.’s father, Rowan Barrett, and R.J.’s godfather, Steve Nash, alongside then-Philadelphia 76er Todd MacCulloch and leading scorer Michael Meeks. Part of the reason for Team Canada’s continued absence is that, well, of the nearly 170 ranked men’s teams in the world, only 12 qualify for the Olympics, making it nearly impossible to be a recurring participant. And, furthermore, world basketball is incredibly difficult, but those who root for Team USA probably wouldn’t realize that.
How far Canada could go is a fun discussion because of the many young NBA talents on their roster who are beginning to blossom in the league, as well as overseas. They finished seventh in the year 2000 after advancing to the knockout stage, and given the unpredictability surrounding basketball this season, they could embark on another special run.
In Victoria Group B, Turkey defeated Uruguay 95-86 yesterday and will play Czech Republic today in a match-up that will likely determine the team to beat among the group.