The most encouraging sign for the future of the Canadian men’s basketball program in the moments after another painful and ultimately heartbreaking loss that extended its summer Olympic drought to five and counting, took place on social media.
RJ Barrett is the role model for the young professional citizen. He’s been in the public eye since he was a teenager and has grown up knowing firsthand the pitfalls that await these young, famous, reckless, and internet-connected.
While emerging as the No. A high school pick on the word, then Duke’s basketball star camera, and then the maelstrom that is the New York Knicks, Barrett has always stayed in business.
It is not an easy task.
But there was a rift Saturday night when Barrett, his teammates and the entire basketball scene took in another inexplicable loss with an Olympic berth on the line as Canada initially fell behind by double digits to the Czech Republic, back from miraculous way from below. nine with 44 seconds to go to force extra time and then he couldn’t hold out as he topped five with the ball and two minutes to go in overtime.
That Czech’s winning basket came in a rolling sentence and as Canada’s 12-foot open basket on the buzzer spun after being in the middle, it captures the spirit of the whole thing.
If there is the metaphorical equivalent of a goat that must be sacrificed to the Swiss gods of FIBA in order for Canada’s fortunes to change, someone should ask.
It was more than a tough defeat. It was a kick in the ribs for a show that has been brought to its knees almost too many times to count.
Tempers were heating up. Barrett, who was fantastic from start to finish in the semi-final and was probably Canada’s best player in the entire Olympic Qualification Tournament, chased the umpire team down the tunnel behind the horn, clearly in borderline rage, swinging the fingers.
And then, on his Twitter account, the 21-year-old responded to the critics.
He was measured in his response, but the message was clear: ‘just look at me; I’m going to shove those words down your fucking throat.
And if you love Canadian basketball and want to see the men’s program earn a spot on the international stage commensurate with the talent the country clearly has in abundance, you just loved it.
Because the only thing that will allow Canada to break through internationally is exactly that: a pride in the jersey and a passion for blood in the mouth to prove to those who do not believe that they are wrong.
Because Canada has players. Everybody knows. Czech star Tomas Satoransky wasn’t fuming when he said before the event started that, on paper, Canada was probably the second best team in the world.
What is needed if they are to make it to the Olympics in 2024 and beyond is for the program’s biggest players to find a way to make Canada’s performance internationally as high on their agendas as their other obligations. professionals or at least Take the national team into account when planning how to meet those obligations.
They must commit to playing in the World Cup and part of the qualifying window before the World Cup to earn the mileage necessary to be worthy of the road in decisive games like the ones that took place in Victoria this weekend.
Because the margins in international basketball are much smaller than most believe. Team USA overwhelms with their NBA talent, but even with a well-stocked roster of stars or near-stars at the World Cup in China in 2019, they finished seventh.
Meanwhile, teams like Germany, Italy and Slovenia, all with minimal NBA representation, were able to break through to the other OQTs over the weekend and earn a spot in Tokyo.
It was an honor and a privilege to wear red and white again
Even though we did not reach our final goal, there is no doubt that @canadabasketball is heading in the right direction @ Canada https://t.co/EJpxOjvZhg
– andrew wiggins (@ 22wiggins) July 4, 2021
There will always be room for optimism with Canadian basketball because it seems safe to assume that there will always be a quality talent pool.
Even as the senior team was crumbling in Victoria, the U19 team, with up to five possible future first-round NBA draft picks from 2022, is on the rise at the World Championship in Latvia.
The NBA class of 2021 was not considered especially strong from a Canadian perspective, but now it looks like Canada could have two more first-round players in July in AJ Lawson and Josh Primo.
But the men’s program will go up or down based on the commitment and passion of its best players.
That’s been the secret on the women’s side, where they head to their third consecutive Olympics because people like Kim Gaucher, Miranda Ayim, and Nat Achonwa have been on the show for a decade or more and before that, players like Shona Thorburn, Tamara Tatham. and Lizanne Murphy put in the effort to take it from an international afterthought to where it is today, ranking fourth in the world on its way to Tokyo.
That’s why it’s important that Barrett was so angry after the horn and couldn’t stay away from his phone when the trolls started coming in.
Barrett will be in his prime for three more Olympic cycles, potentially
Does it look like you’re going to tap before you get a chance to represent Canada on the bigger stage like your father and godfather Steve Nash did? I do not believe it.
Will you ignore the lessons learned here in Victoria? I really doubt it.
Or what about Nickeil Alexander-Walker? He entered the tournament smoking from the moment he fell to the ground and was playing all-in and without fear until the final horn. He is only 22 years old. Hopefully her 22-year-old cousin Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is healing from a foot injury at home, was looking on and thinking ‘I want some of that. Jamal Murray, with an anterior cruciate ligament tear, is Dec.
Luguentz Dort is 22 years old and proved as maniacally competitive playing for Canada as he does while terrorizing opponents of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The amazement he expressed at having the opportunity to play for Canada after being largely a rumor for most of his rise as a young player from North Montreal was heartfelt, refreshing. The hope is now that, with one taste, you will be hungry for more.
This is not to mention the efforts of longtime contributors Dwight Powell or Cory Joseph or Andrew Nicholson or Aaron Doornekamp.
However, they deserved a break for the years they have spent in the persecution.
And who knows, if his fellow bosses Kelly Olynyk or Khem Birch hadn’t been on a contract year, he might have arrived this summer.
But there’s no choice but to look ahead now and if RJ Barrett is angry and Nickel Alexander-Walker is crushed and Luguentz Dort wants more, Canada’s basketball future could well burn brightly.
Let anger be the fuel.