Canadian men’s basketball team confident in chemistry despite late hiccups ahead of World Cup | CBC Sports


After the latest deflating Canadian men’s basketball loss, at the last-chance Olympic qualifier in Victoria two years ago, the organization made a commitment to chemistry.

Not long after, 14 players committed to show up whenever they could over a three-year cycle leading into the 2024 Paris Olympics. NBA champion Nick Nurse would be the head coach.

But Nurse stunningly left the team in June, and was swiftly replaced by Sacramento Kings assistant Jordi Fernandez.

On Tuesday, the team gathered for its first day of training camp at Toronto’s OVO Athletic Centre, where all 14 of those players — plus four more — were in attendance.

And so it was a bit jarring, if not totally surprising, when the first words out of general manager Rowan Barrett’s mouth were that the status of Jamal Murray, the Denver Nuggets star coming off an NBA championship run of his own, was in some doubt.

“He’s coming very tired. So we’ve got to really watch him work with our therapy team and make the right decision for him medically as well, but looks good so far,” Barrett said.

WATCH | Barrett discusses road to Paris:

Canada Basketball GM Rowan Barrett on Canada’s pathway to Paris 2024

Host Morgan Campbell is joined by Canada Basketball General Manager Rowan Barrett to discuss the development of the men’s program and what they’ll need to do to qualify for Paris 2024.

‘Huge sacrifice’

The good news is that Murray practised Tuesday and wants to be with the team through the World Cup, which begins Aug. 25 in Jakarta, Indonesia.

And his mere presence has inspired teammates such as Dallas Mavericks veteran centre Dwight Powell.

“That’s a huge sacrifice, huge honour and commitment. And I think we all recognize that and we’re obviously super excited for his success because that in a lot of ways represents us as a country. So we’re happy, super happy for him. Feeling fortunate he’s physically able and it’s a long grind to go through all the way to the end,” Powell said.

“He did what he had to do to be prepared to be here today, and that means a lot.”

If Murray’s commitment is the signal of a new era after years of last-minute player dropouts, then success should be on deck for the Canadian men, considering the talent pipeline that’s formed in recent years.

Starting Tuesday, the best-case scenario would be 41 days together through the World Cup final, with warmup stops in Germany and Spain on the way to the tournament in Asia.

Still, Barrett, who played on the 2000 Olympic team — the last Canadian men’s squad to make the Olympics — and who’s been GM since 2019, may still carry some scar tissue.

“I’ll feel better when we get on the plane going to Germany. But it’s good. I think knowing guys are committed, understanding each other a little bit better, having seen each other, played with each other, I think that’s good,” he said.

Olympic qualifying path

The top two teams from the Americas region at the World receive direct berths to the 2024 Paris Olympics, while others are relegated to last-chance tournaments — the kind Canada lost in 2021.

Canada, ranked 15th by FIBA, is grouped with No. 5 France, No. 29 Latvia and No. 43 Lebanon in Group H. The top two teams advance to the next stage, in which records carry over and two more games are played against teams from Group G, which includes top-ranked Spain. The pair of teams emerging from the second stage advance to the quarterfinals.

It makes for a tough path for the Canadians — essentially boiling down to beating either France or Spain. Both nations come equipped with veterans and years of experience, though the French are missing phenom Victor Wembanyama.

And for all the talk of burgeoning chemistry, Canada’s core 14 have never played a game together. Maybe that softens the blow of also learning a new coach’s system.

Barrett said Fernandez would have full latitude to implement his own on-court ideas. Fernandez said the identity he is trying to form is “competitive,” “selfless” and “connected.”

“If you think about it being competitive, it means that you’re fighting every single day. Being selfless means that you put the team first. It’s not about you, it’s not about me. It’s not about any individual. It’s about us. And being connected is, I’m going to be there for you if I have to hold you accountable or if I have to help you,” he said.

“So if we can be perceived that way with the talent that you guys see here, we’re going to be really good.”

‘We got a goal in mind’

Fernandez, 40, said he jumped at the opportunity to take the job with Canada Basketball.

“I’m extremely honoured to be here and help this program grow to where it’s supposed to be where it’s ranked No. 1. This is our long-term goal,” he said.

Powell, a Team Canada stalwart, said he wasn’t concerned about the sudden coaching change.

“Hurdle or not, we got a goal in mind. We have something we want to get to and we have an amazing group here. We have everything we need. So there’s no excuses.”

Arguably Canada’s best player, especially considering Murray’s injury status, is Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of Hamilton, Ont.

Gilgeous-Alexander, 25, said the team is talented enough to accomplish anything, but it’s the culture being created that will push it over the top.

“The best teams overseas, they play together for so long and they’re so connected with [each other]. We just want to level the playing field,” he said.


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