Basketball to a great extent has been like soccer trying to build and grow and establish its turf as Canada’s second sport. I would say for decades we have heard about the numbers of kids participating in both sports rising to levels that compete with Canada’s holy grail of hockey. All of this has yet to produce the results on the world stage at the elite level on a large scale.
There have been moments where both sports have thought they were on the verge of breaking through at times over the years. In 1986 Canada qualified for the World Cup and it was thought that would launch the sport to new levels. Canada would not make in back to the World Cup since. They would win the Gold Cup defeating Colombia in the final 2-0. Again it was thought this could take soccer to the next level. Canada has actually had more success on the Women’s side of the sport than it has on the Men’s side of it. In recent times the success of Women at the recent Olympics winning a bronze medal. This came after an epic match with the United States that captured the imagination of this country. Canada also is now the home of three MLS Franchises in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
Basketball wise there have been moments as well perhaps beginning with Steve Nash leading Team Canada to successful early run in 2000 Olympics. It would be a launching pad for Nash to his NBA Career going to the next level. He would go on to win two MVP’s and winning countless awards including the Canadian Athlete of the year. Prior to the rise of Nash there was the return of the NBA to Canada which had not set foot north of the border since it’s very begins of the league. In 1995 The NBA launched two franchises in Canada with Toronto and Vancouver giving birth to the Raptors and Grizzlies.
You combine the rise of Nash and return of NBA to Canada is likely the genius of this rise of Canada Basketball. In the past Canada has had to beg to get talent to come on board. Steve Nash would have a divorce from the national program when Jay Triano was fired in 2005. Nash would turn down the Raptors in summer of 2012 but would not turn down a position as G.M of the Canada basketball program. A condition to the return was the re-hiring of Triano. He just coached his first game since returning last night with success over Jamaica.
The roster of that team is not even the full amount of talent that Canada has at its disposal. Andrew Wiggins perhaps the crown jewel of this rise of Canada basketball as well as the surprising number one pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers Anthony Bennett and Kelly Olynyk also a lottery pick all not part of this roster.
Yet is still is full of talent like recent first round selections like Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph and Andrew Nicholson.
It seems such a far cry from Canada Basketball trying to banking its hopes on guys like Joel Anthony who is still a part of this potential roster today. There was the Samuel Dalembert experiment that saw him find a way to gain his Canadian citizenship. He would clash with Leo Rautins and be sent home and never would suit up for Canada again. Weeks prior to this event I personally had a chat with Dalembert who was genuinely excited for opportunity to play for Canada. In contrast former Raptor Matt Bonner who is married to Canadian girl has struggled to gain his Canadian citizenship.
Canada Basketball’s days of begging for talent seem far behind them with Nash at the helm. The first goal for this group assembled currently is to qualify for the World Cup of Basketball (Formerly World Championship) which will begin with qualifying attempt at the end of this month. The true goal is to have all of the best talent assemble for Rio Olympics in 2016.
Canada Basketball is on the verge of a golden age that will actually have tough choices to make on that will be part of this roster going forward. It is a chance to have that major breakthrough for the sport of basketball in this country. Another person that likely deserves some credit for this evolution is Vince Carter. Many of the young players that will make up this group were kids watching Vince in his glory days with the Raptors.
Finally Canada Basketball has a shot to break out of the large shadow that hockey casts on all other sports in this country. If you love basketball in this country you have your fingers crossed that these young men can succeed and raise the flag for basketball and Canada.