Expectations Are Different Now: Pressure Is on Canada Basketball to Rise Up
Team Canada blew a chance at the FIBA Americas to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio after losing in devastating fashion to Venezuela. With a revamped roster and Andrew Wiggins in the fold, the pressure to succeed is real.
Photo by Henry Romero-Reuters
It's been a week since Team Canada suffered a devastating last-second loss to Venezuela in the semifinals of the men's championship at the FIBA Americas, denying it a berth in the 2016 Rio Olympics, for now. The national men's team hasn't played in the Olympics since 2000, when Steve Nash led the squad to a seventh-place finish in the tournament as the team's starting point guard. Fifteen years later, he's now the general manager.
So, what's next for this team? Here are some questions and answers below.
What does Canada have to do to qualify for the 2016 Olympics now?
There's a last chance tournament next year—the 2016 FIBA World Olympic qualifiers—from July 5-11. The entire tournament set-up is a bit convoluted, but here's what you need to know: there will be 18 teams in total that take part in the tournament, and they will be split up into three qualifying tournaments of six teams each, and the winner of each of those three tournaments will get a spot to compete in Rio.
There will be five teams from the EuroBasket tournament (so far, that includes France, Greece and Italy), three teams from the Americas (Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico), three teams from AfroBasket (Angola, Senegal, Tunisia), one team from Oceania (New Zealand), three teams from Asia (to be determined) and three slots from the hosts of the three tournaments. If all of this sounds like a potpourri of teams that failed to qualify this summer mixed with some home teams, that's exactly what it is.
So, is this easier than the tournament Canada just competed in?
Depends (this is where you would insert a referee complaint). The FIBA Americas provided some formidable competition with teams like Argentina, Venezuela, and even Mexico was a handful in the bronze medal game, which Canada won. The problem with the six-team tournament, and Olympics qualifying in general, is the random nature of the draw and the fact that the more talented team won't necessarily win out in a one-game elimination scenario, and that's not even accounting for all the external factors like home-court advantage and other things (another word for other things: insert another referee complaint here).
Also, the teams from EuroBasket and Asia are not going to be pushovers, and Canada may find itself having to win at least one or two games against better competition than it faced in general at the FIBA Americas—not qualifying this summer was not ideal.
And if you'd like to know, this three-tournament format is new for Olympics qualifying. Previously, 12 teams would have played in one single tournament with the top three qualifying, which probably would have made Canada's chances of landing one of the spots higher. Either way, this team would need to beat some quality competition to get to Rio.
OK, give me some good news
Sure. For starters, Canada might put in a bid to host one of the three qualifying tournaments next year, which would provide it with home-court advantage, which we already saw a bit of at the Pan Am Games earlier this summer (by the way, if you want to be irrational, blame all of this on the people who signed that Kanye petition). Anyways...
Canada has until September 28 to put in a bid and, in late November, FIBA's Executive Committee will decide the three hosts, so those are the next dates to keep an eye on for any further announcement. Early estimates have the cost of hosting the event at $3–5 million. Toronto would obviously make sense, given the fan base there and the available facilities. The outlay would basically be an additional cost of potentially giving the national team an extra edge, a needed cost for getting to Rio. It would be a surprise if Canada didn't put in a bid.
But what else should we be concerned about?
Injuries. Availability of players. All of that. The team was missing Tristan Thompson, who is still an unsigned free agent, at the FIBA Americas and he would have helped defensively and on the boards. But the team also had Andrew Wiggins, Cory Joseph and a rejuvenated (isn't he always every summer?) Anthony Bennett, and so on. Depending on how the NBA season plays out, things could happen that prevent some of the players from competing, so that's a worry.
What about Steve Nash's comments about Jay Triano?
There was some heat on Triano after Canada's loss to Venezuela, as Wiggins played 26 minutes (of 40) and the coach went away from Bennett, who had been effective all tournament. But Nash basically told all the people questioning Triano to "shut the fuck up" (or at least: "calm down") afterward.
I completely understand where Nash is coming from. The national program is trying to build something sustainable here, and Nash and Triano obviously have a long running relationship that goes way back. The final result from the FIBA Americas was not ideal, but the team was also dominant for a stretch in the tournament and you could see all the young talent on display, even if it didn't result in the team clinching an Olympic berth. Add to the team's silver medal showing at the Pan Am Games (albeit with a slightly different roster, or perhaps in spite of a roster with less NBA talent) which included a victory over Team USA (not the A-Team, but again, baby steps), and Canada has made some tremendous strides on the international basketball stage.
But expectations are different now, and there's a desire from fans for this team to be good now. And being good includes a chance to compete in Rio next year. So, Nash will have to answer these questions again if the team doesn't qualify next summer. We'll find out then if he sees Triano as the long-term solution as head coach for the team.
If Canada doesn't qualify for Rio, are there any silver linings?
It would be disappointing, not because Canada is a shoo-in to medal if it gets to Rio, but because it would be a tremendous experience for this young and upcoming team. In international basketball, it's hard for a team to get a lot of reps together and build camaraderie and chemistry. The FIBA Americas tournament helped in that regard, next year's qualifying tournament will add to that, and competing at the biggest stage at the Olympics would be a boon.
Silver linings? Wiggins is still Canadian? By the 2020 Olympics (the next one Canada can qualify for), the core players on the team will be near or in their prime, which will be really exciting. Wiggins will be 25, Stauskas will be 26, Bennett will be 27, Thompson and Joseph will be 29, and that's not considering incoming players like University of Kentucky freshman Jamal Murray (who will be 23 in 2020). Whatever happens at the qualifier next summer, there will only be additional expectations placed on this core group moving forward. But despite the disappointment of last week, there will be plenty to be excited about for years to come.