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Canada enters the men’s Olympic qualification with a bright future on the horizon

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Is the time.

Time to put the ghosts to rest. To calm the skeptics; Put the past in the past and embrace what an incredibly bright basketball future should look like.

After heartbreak and pain and decades in the desert of international basketball, it is time for the Canadian men’s team to complete their quest and advance to the Olympics for the first time in 21 years and only the second time since 1988, an era that It seems so distant, the kids who grew up idolizing Vince Carter and have kids of their own don’t even know what happened.

Frustration, perhaps even despair, can be heard in the voice of national team captain Cory Joseph, who has been preparing internationally for Canada since he was a teenager, but in nearly a decade with the senior team, he has yet to it has a tangible flavor. success.

The closed calls and the disappointments: in 2013 at FIBA ​​Americas and even more painful in 2015 in Mexico City and then in 2016 at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in the Philippines and then once again in 2019 and the World Cup of FIBA basketball in China – they have left scars.

“We definitely remember it and it still hurts,” Joseph says of the burdens he and some of his teammates have had to carry. “So we are trying to get rid of that feeling; I’m trying to get rid of that feeling. “

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No amount of scar tissue is enough to overshadow Joseph’s love for the game that has shone every time he has taken the court in 10 NBA seasons.

“Basketball is fun,” he says. It is almost his mantra.

But enough that even he can’t avoid getting close to this latest turning point, another Olympic Qualifying Tournament, but this time where they play at home and have the benefits of a good draw and a good schedule, with a note. of proper precaution. .

“We definitely have a lot of talent,” Joseph said of Canada’s 12-man roster that should include an eight-man NBA rotation bolstered by some capable European professionals beyond that. “That is well known… we definitely have a good chance here. We gathered a big group of guys, but … I’ve been here for a while; I’ve had talented groups before and we couldn’t get the job done.

“So we have to be extremely focused and put it all together and go out there and play extremely hard. I think if we play together and play hard, I think our talent can be shown. “

For once, it’s Canada that doesn’t have the outrageous travel schedule or time change to overcome. Consider Greece, against whom Canada opens the tournament on Tuesday night before hosting China on Wednesday.

On paper, they are the sixth-ranked team in the world, but they won’t be in full force in Victoria, not even close, according to head coach Rick Pitino.

He made it pretty strong, but it can’t be ideal that they traveled for 24 hours to get to Victoria as Pitino joked (but not really) that they had to catch a 5:45 am flight from Athens because “the federation wanted to save $ 20 per person. ”He went on to explain how many of his projected starters would be without due to injury and joked about how disappointed he was that Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo was leading his team to the Eastern Conference Finals and, therefore it was not available for Greece for the OQT.

China does not have some of its key veterans and should be a step up, while on the other side of the tie Canada, number 21, Turkey, number 10, and the Czech Republic, number 12, have only four players. current NBA players on your roster. combined lists.

Everyone else in Victoria believes this is the Canadian tournament to lose.

“Obviously Canada is the favorite of this group in my opinion,” said Czech captain and Chicago Bulls point guard Tomas Satoransky. “When you put them in writing, I would say they are the second best team in the world if you look only at the names.

“Most of their NBA guys have a great role in their teams, some of them are stars, so it will be interesting to see how they can put the group together and how they can perform at home.

“I wonder, I’m looking forward to seeing that.”

Everybody is.

The fly in the ointment here is that the next time this version of the national team plays together it will be their first.

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There are six players on the roster who played for Canada in Mexico City when they lost a spot at the 2016 Olympics to defeat Venezuela on timed free throws, but Canada’s coaching staff has made a full recovery since. .

Joseph is the only player on the 2019 World Cup roster, the only time Nurse has coached the team.

Some of the players he will depend on: Luguentz Dort of the Oklahoma City Thunder; Nickeil Alexander-Walker of the New Orleans Pelicans and Trey Lyles of the San Antonio Spurs have never played a senior game for Canada.

Others, Mychal Mulder of the Golden State Warriors or RJ Barrett of the New York Knicks, have never played a significant game.

His only “game” entering the tournament was against the Canadian under-19 team. The competition in Victoria will be a big step forward, however talented Canada’s youth teams are these days.

Interestingly, that could also work in your favor.

“We haven’t been able to explore them, they haven’t played any games,” Pitino said. “We have played three friendly matches and they haven’t played any matches, so we are going a little blind in terms of exploring what they do.

“We certainly know their talent, we certainly know that their coach is outstanding, but we don’t know what they are going to execute offensively, defensively as a scheme. We can move on from the Toronto Raptors or other previous Canadian teams, but I don’t think that’s very helpful. “

There is no way anyone would prefer to participate in such a short tournament; it only takes four games to win it; but it can be lost in two – and with so much at stake and without having some kind of exhibition schedule, but between COVID protocols and border restrictions, that’s the way it had to be.

They will have to figure it out.

“I think I’m happy with the way the team came together in the end,” Nurse said. “I think he is well armed. I think there are really committed and passionate guys along with the talent. I think there is a deep team here. I think there are some guys who play really specific roles and they play them well, you know, that’s what makes a team a team.

“They have really practiced hard and well. I think they have been super focused. There are no games or prep games or anything like that, so tomorrow we’ll find out a lot more about who we are and who we can become. But I am very satisfied with where we are here today. “

This is how he will feel the Sunday after, hopefully, the tournament final that will matter the most.

Finally, a year late, we have a six-day, six-team endurance race in which the past, present and future of Canadian basketball are heading in the same direction. The only option is to crash or win.

Winning would mean a place in the Olympics. Winning would mean that the ‘golden era of Canadian basketball’ could finally begin.

“I’ve been at this for a long time,” says 29-year-old Joseph. “I started about 14, 15 years ago with him [youth] team; 10 years ago with the senior team. I’ve been trying to get [to the Olympics] since then.

“So it would mean a lot to us to do it, sure. I think it would mean a lot to our country. I think our country thirsts for that. I’m definitely thirsty for that. So it would mean a lot to everyone involved in this entire nation. “

Yes, I would; Yes, I would.

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