When Czech Republic guard Thomas Satoransky nudged past the outstretched hand of Canadian Lu Dort with 1.0 seconds left in overtime during the semi-final of the Olympic qualifying tournament in Victoria, Colombia -British, last summer, that changed everything for the Canadian senior men’s basketball team. . Satoransky’s two points were the difference in a 103-101 victory in the Czech Republic – a win that would send Canada home in heartbreak for the second time in four years, the previous being a loss to France in the final of the Olympic qualifications in 2016.
It’s no coincidence that the two teams that beat them were proud basketball nations with roster continuity at the forefront of their programs, with many players playing together for their national team since they were teenagers. Despite having more NBA players than their two opponents, the Canadians lost because they lacked the chemistry or continuity required.
So Rowan Barrett – who succeeded Canadian basketball legend Steve Nash as general manager of Canada’s senior men’s national team program in 2019 – and Nick Nurse – whom Barrett hired as head coach after leading the Toronto Raptors to an NBA championship – brought together the best collection of Canadian basketball talent in history in Las Vegas during the NBA Summer League just months after that Satoransky sweater to say this: you’re either in, or you’re out.
Gone are the days when Canadian NBA players could only join the team when it suited them. Either commit to playing (or at least participating in training camp and practices) for the next three years leading up to Paris 2024 – with the aim being to earn an Olympic spot via the FIBA World Cup 2023 instead than via another last-ditch qualifier – or you sacrifice your guaranteed spot on the team and risk not having a roster spot come Olympics time.
Now, that might seem like the logical thing to do. After all, Canadians haven’t made the Olympics in 22 years, and the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. But these are NBA players we’re talking about – people who make millions of dollars and are used to doing what’s right for them. There are a number of things that make a long-term commitment from NBA players unlikely, including injury possibilities, committing time after potentially going through a long playoff streak, and wanting to spend time in family, and the contract status of players trying to sign their next contract. Andrew Wiggins declined to commit, while Dillon Brooks did not show up for training camp this week in Toronto.
It was a tough sell for Barrett and Nurse, trying to convince the guys that it was the only way to build a strong winning culture for the program and one day take them to the promised land: Olympic gold. Thankfully, Shai GIligious-Alexander — the top Canadian in the game right now — stepped in before Nurse had even finished his speech at that dinner party in Vegas to say he was playing. But for the undecided guys, Barrett and Nurse had to press the right buttons, explaining how this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to represent their country and inspire the next generation, how they could build friendships on and off the pitch, how much fun they could have. playing together and achieving their goals, and perhaps the most overlooked aspect of all: how they could use this opportunity to improve and advance their NBA careers.
“I think a lot of people focus on what could go wrong when you come to play, but there are a lot of things that can help you,” said Kelly Olynyk, 31, who made his national team debut at teenager at the 2010 World Cup in Turkey, told the media during training camp for Window 3 of the FIBA Americas qualifiers. “(It can) boost you and propel you forward, and put you on a different trajectory.”
“I think it’s something that sometimes gets a little overlooked, but happens a lot more than you might think.”
The nurse notes that summer is a time for NBA players to work on their games and improve, and what the national team goes through during training camp to prepare for a group of games is radically different than just going for a regular summer workout or a casual run.
“I just feel like every time you do high-level, high-intensity, high-conditioning sport, watching strategic movies, preparing against, you know, just going to your training for the summer, it’ll make you better, won’t it? And I just think everyone benefits from that, from what I can tell.
Nurse cited Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan as examples, who won gold with Team USA at the 2016 Olympics and then had the best seasons of their careers, as well as Andrew Wiggins, who played with the Canadian team in Victoria and went on to win an NBA Championship with the Golden State Warriors last season.
While Nurse acknowledged that his job is to set the team up to win, he said he also monitors his players’ growth and the program’s long-term plan, the same way he coaches the Raptors.
“What a coach should be is trying to get the guys better and get better, build their confidence, get them to believe to get them to become more than they maybe think- to be the same that they can become and to open up thoughts or freedom or avenues for them. just move to another level. Help them move to another level,” says Nurse. “And if we can build trust here and that they can bring that back with them in their professional teams, that’s certainly a big part of what we’re trying to achieve here.”
There are a number of national team players who attribute part of their NBA success to their international experience, including veterans Dwight Powell and Kelly Olynyk.
“I think the offseason is an opportunity for everyone at every level to up their game. There’s the quiet hours, the gym, the dark hours, whatever you want to call it, where you’re kind of working,” says Powell. “But being able to compete for something at a really high level in the offseason is a whole other developmental benefit.”
“So on the one hand, that’s been a huge key for me in terms of furthering my career, is being able to fight over the summer for something that matters most to me, which drives my development. in such a way that I’m always working for a short term goal, which is great.
Additionally, many NBA players have the opportunity to play a bigger role on their national teams than they would in the NBA, making them more experienced with reps on the ball, which Olynyk has experimented. A mainstay of the program since his teenage years when most of his NBA counterparts opted out, Olynyk is more of a role player in the NBA but has long been a primary option on Team Canada.
“I mean, you just have the ability to do different things, you know, whether it’s in college or in the NBA or on different professional teams, you’re kind of pegged to a certain role or a certain situation and you have a chance to come here and either develop this, or change this, or play a different role and continue to grow,” says Olynyk.
“It’s just about opportunities and diversifying your game and being able to do different things at different levels and just trying to develop and expand your game physically, mentally, skill-wise, all that kind of The higher you play, the better you get.
“All of that experience even helps translate back into the world of the NBA.”
While Powell and Olynyk have both carved out starting roles on good NBA teams over the course of their careers, there are a number of Canadian NBA players committed to the program who are still trying to make it their own. themselves. Nickeil Alexander-Walker was traded to the Utah Jazz at the deadline and struggled to find a spot in the rotation, Lu Dort is primarily used as a defensive weapon in Oklahoma where he rarely gets a chance to do anything else than getting up on offense, Khem Birch only played a few minutes in the Raptors’ rotation at the end of last season, and Oshae Brissett is still trying to work her way into Indiana’s starting rotation. They could all benefit from a solid summer of training and competition, with the increased reps helping them expand their games and feel more comfortable in the NBA.
Part of that comfort should come from the increased confidence that Nurse is trying to instill in his players by giving them different roles than they’re used to. The other part could come from the opportunity to play in more stressful situations than they’re used to, especially if they haven’t been on NBA playoff teams. The more opportunities there are to play with the pressure of their country behind them, the more comfortable players should be in the spotlight.
“Pressure is pressure: it’s what you make of it. So the more you can put yourself in these situations, the more comfortable you become during your career. So that’s really helpful,” Powell said.
We often focus on the negatives that come with making the national team, but it’s possible this jumper Satoransky can improve Canadian men’s basketball and this summer will be the stepping stone some of Canada’s best young players need. to elevate their games to NBA level.
The Canadians are currently 8-0 after two qualifying windows. Tonight (July 1), the summer squad will take on the Dominican Republic in Hamilton, Ont., then travel to the US Virgin Islands for a second match of this window on July 4.
There are six qualifying windows for the FIBA Basketball World Cup. The last three will take place from August 22-30, November 7-15 and February 20-28. Seven FIBA Americas teams will participate in the 32-team World Cup in 2023, which is a direct qualifier for the Paris Olympics.
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