TORONTO — Continuity was the keyword Tuesday as Canada Basketball announced its player strategy ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Fourteen elite players, including Jamal Murray, R.J. Barrett and nine other NBAers, have committed to representing Canada between now and the 2024 Olympics. They have agreed to come to camp, even if they are injured and cannot play.
"If this team can get to the floor and stay together for a couple of summers, you're going to see a really good team," said Canada coach Nick Nurse, whose day job is coaching the Toronto Raptors.
The Canadian men missed out on the Tokyo Olympics, losing 103-101 in overtime to the Czech Republic last July in the semifinals of a last-chance Olympic qualifier in Victoria. The Czechs went on to win the event and book their ticket to Tokyo.
"Coming out of Victoria last year, we decided to make a systematic change to how we put our teams together and what we're going to do moving forward," Rowan Barrett, GM and executive vice-president of the senior men's program, told a news conference at the Raptors' practice facility.
"We determined we need to have continuity and cohesion within our teams. We have talented teams, we have talented players. But we need them somehow to be together — the left hand needs to know what the right hand's doing."
Added Nurse: "I don't want to coach it like a D-League team. I've had enough of that — where constantly, every game, you've got four new guys in."
The Canadian men have not made the Olympics since 2000 in Sydney, Australia.
Of the 14 who have made the three-year commitment, Nickeil Alexander-Walker (Utah Jazz), Barrett (New York Knicks), Luguentz Dort (Oklahoma City Thunder), Cory Joseph (Detroit Pistons) and Dwight Powell (Dallas Mavericks) were on the Victoria tournament roster.
Trey Lyles (Sacramento Kings), Mychal Mulder (Miami Heat) and Andrew Wiggins (Golden State Warriors) were the other NBAers on the Victoria squad.
Nurse says Wiggins wanted to play but couldn't commit to three straight summers.
"I said 'If you commit, you're in. If you don't commit, you're going to have to hope there's a spot or two open and you're going to have to make the team," Nurse said he told Wiggins. "He said 'Cool.'"
"I know there's at least one other player in that boat. And maybe some other guys will emerge — if there's spots," Nurse added.
The 11 committed NBAers combined to make some US$100 million this season, according to HoopsHype.
The three non-NBAers are Zach Edey, Melvin Ejim and Kevin Pangos,
Edey, a seven-foot-four centre with the NCAA's Purdue Boilermakers, was in camp with Canada prior to Victoria but was not on the final roster. Ejim plays for Cedevita Olimpija in Slovenia.
Pangos made his NBA debut this season with the Cleveland Cavaliers but was waived in February. After time with the Cavs' G League team, he signed with CKSA Moscow but has yet to play there in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Barrett noted the growing Canadian talent pool with than 20 Canadians in the NBA on any given year, 15 in the developmental G League, almost 30 in top European leagues, and more than 150 in the NCAA.
Some of those NBAers won't make the team, he said.
But he added: "We haven't done anything yet. We need to win."
Barrett says Canada has the talent but needs togetherness.
"For the gap that we know that we need to close, it's a gap of continuity and cohesion," he said. "I don't think anybody could have watched us play last summer and said 'Well, they had a gap in talent.'
"I think we had enough. I think our challenge, as Nick said very well, is in the other teams being together."
Other NBAers not on the committed list include Dalano Banton and Chris Boucher (Toronto Raptors), Brandon Clarke (Memphis Grizzlies), Josh Primo (San Antonio Spurs) and Tristan Thompson (Chicago Bulls).
The Canadian men, ranked 18th in the world, are currently bidding to qualify for FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023.
The Canadians leads their qualifying group with a 4-0 record through the first two windows of the competition. Canada will host the Dominican Republic on July 1 in Hamilton, marking Canada’s first game on home soil since February 2020 when the FIBA AmeriCup 2022 Qualifiers took place in Oshawa, Ont.
The Canadian men will play at the U.S. Virgin Islands on July 4.
Sixteen nations from the Americas are vying for the continent's seven spots in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023.
The World Cup will send seven teams to the Olympics, including two from the Americas. The four remaining places in the 12-team Olympic field, not counting host France, will be determined by FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments.
Canada Basketball says the list of 14 players is "complementary" to the 15 winter core roster players who wore the Maple Leaf in the opening windows of the FIBA World Cup qualifiers in November and February.
Rosters for all upcoming senior men’s FIBA competitions will be made up of core players from both the summer and winter pools.
There has been continuity in the coaching staff with Raptors assistants Nate Bjorkgren and Nathaniel Mitchell coaching the Canadian team in the first two FIBA World Cup qualifier windows.
Senior Men’s National Team Summer Core
Nickeil Alexander-Walker (Utah Jazz), R.J. Barrett (New York Knicks), Khem Birch (Toronto Raptors), Oshae Brissett (Indiana Pacers), Dillon Brooks (Memphis Grizzlies), Luguentz Dort (Oklahoma City Thunder), Zach Edey (Purdue, NCAA), Melvin Ejim (Cedevita Olimpija, Slovenia), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City Thunder), Cory Joseph (Detroit Pistons), Jamal Murray (Denver Nuggets), Kelly Olynyk (Detroit Pistons), Kevin Pangos (unattached), Dwight Powell (Dallas Mavericks).
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 24, 2022
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press