While some of Canada’s biggest basketball names took to the floor at the Mattamy Athletic Centre in Toronto, Carl English, dressed in a white collared shirt and grey sweats, found his spot on the far right side of Team Canada’s bench next to Joel Anthony.
The 32-year-old, who plays professionally in Spain, has been part of the country’s senior men’s national program since 2005 and has thus seen the struggles first hand – he was on the teams that failed to qualify for both the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the London Games in 2012.
But times are changing. Canadians like Tristan Thompson, Andrew Nicholson and Cory Joseph are carving out careers for themselves in the NBA while also showing interest in playing for their country.
All three were on the court both Thursday and Saturday for Canada's back-to-back victories over Jamaica at the Jack Donohue Classic.
“If you keep them all together just imagine these guys [in the future] and you throw in [Andrew] Wiggins and within a couple of years [think of] the damage they’re going to be doing,” Carl English said in a phone interview. “And when everybody asks me, that’s what I tell them. In years to come I just see medals.”
That said, English acknowledges the amount of hard work that lies ahead. There’s more to finding success at the international level than throwing a handful of young NBA players on the court together and giving them a ball. The international game is different than the NBA and that’s one of the biggest things English is trying to preach to some of the team’s younger players.
“They have to understand that it’s a whole new game,” he said. “The spacing, the way the refs call it, the rules, so for them it’s a big adjustment . . . When Tristan [Thompson] makes a move here there’s three guys waiting for him so you have to learn to adapt and adjust to the style of play and that’s where I think I can help the most.”
He’s not the only one who’s able to pass down that type of in-game advice, either.
Jermaine Anderson and Joel Anthony are two other Canada basketball veterans who took in Thursday’s game from the bench. In fact, English, Anderson and Anthony, who have a combined 20 years (178 games) of playing experience with Canada, were sitting together for most of the game talking about what the team needs to work on and emphasize in practice as well as shouting tips and pieces of encouragement to their teammates on the court.
“They’re helping us everyday,” Brady Heslip said after the game Thursday when asked about the veterans on the roster. “I can’t even describe how much they help us, Carl [English] and when Steve [Nash] was around. Those guys teach me the little tricks you can do and they’ve been great.”
It’s part of what it means to be leaders and is something that Anderson feels has become a large part of his overall responsibility.
“For me now it’s more of a teaching role,” Anderson, who played professionally in Germany last season, said. “I still have to maintain a level of playing and work ethic, but I also have to speak a lot more and just help guys because there are a lot of guys on this team that don’t have much international experience and that’s where myself, Carl, Joel and Levon [Kendall] come in to help those guys.”
He pointed specifically to Junior Cadougan, 23, and Myck Kabongo, 21, as far as younger players who he’s tried to take under his wing and pass on knowledge to while English says he’s worked quite a bit in practice with Tristan Thompson, 22, and Heslip, 23.
“Brady’s a tremendous shooter with our team and it’s just the little things that are going to help him,” English said. “I knew guys were going to jump on every pump fake and that their closeouts would be late so I’m just trying to get his mindset ready with the types of shots he’s going to get and the moves he has to be ready to take and just working with him in practice.
“A lot of times the guys just need guidance to get back on track and it’s one thing to hear it from your coach, but when you hear it from your peers [it’s different] and that’s what Joel and them are good at it too. When they speak, you listen so I kind of want to be that guy too. You’re not always just yapping you’re mouth, but when you do speak, you have something good to say and they’re going to listen.”
Canada’s next test will come at the end of August when they head to Venezuela for the 2013 FIBA Americas Championship. The teams finishing in the top four spots qualify for the 2014 FIBA World Cup.