TORONTO – Canada's senior men's basketball team battled past Jamaica 81-72 on Thursday night at Ryerson's Mattamy Athletic Centre at Maple Leaf Gardens. Levon Kendall led all scorers with 21 points and Brady Heslip had 18 points and shot 4/7 from three.
With centre Joel Anthony out of the lineup, Triano paired Tristan Thompson and Andrew Nicholson together in the front court. Jamaica's Samardo Samuels and Adrian Uter provided a rugged and aggressive introduction to the physical nature of international basketball. Thompson finished the game with 4 points on 2/9 shooting while Nicholson scored 9 points and went 4/12 from the field. It's all part of the learning experience for two NBA players adjusting to a new set of rules and a unfamiliar style of play.
“When we play overseas, when we play in South America that’s the way the game is. You could see that Tristan [Thompson] and Andrew [Nicholson] were a little frustrated because they’re not used to that but that’s why we’re playing these exhibition games. So they can get a chance to play these international games and understand the physicality is a little bit different than they’re used to," said head coach Jay Triano.
In the first half, Triano split the playing time between two five-man units. Thompson, Nicholson, Jevohn Sheperd, Andy Rautins, and Cory Joseph started the quarter and Heslip, Kendall, Junior Cadougan, Kyle Landry, and Aaron Doornekamp. In the fourth quarter, Heslip and Doornekamp closed the game with Thompson, Nicholson, and Joseph. Triano expects to make more changes to the lineup as the team prepares for the FIBA Americas Championship later this month and experiment with his rotation while some players get acclimatized to international basketball.
“I don’t think anybody should read anything into that except that we’re still trying to make decisions on who’s going to play for us and who’s going to make our team," said Triano. "We just thought that going five in-five out was going to provide an opportunity for our players to get some significant minutes for us to do an evaluation of them to see if they are worthy of playing for Canada.”
Injured veteran Carl English urged his teammates to bring some emotion through sluggish periods of play early on in the game, as the team continues to get more comfortable with each other. Cohesiveness between the players improved as the game progressed and peaked in the fourth.
“I think we got smacked in the first half a little bit because of us not being used to how physical the game was and the pace wasn’t the way we wanted to play but as the game went on we got better," said Triano.
Canada and Jamaica return to the Mattamy Athletic Centre on Saturday for the second game of the Jack Donohue Classic. It'll be another opportunity for Thompson and Nicholson to face Jamaica's physically imposing front court and get accustomed to the grinding pace, a challenge their head coach has full faith that they will respond to.
“They’re going to get used to it, they’re going to adapt to it. You can’t take away their skill level, they’re great skill players and they’ll adapt to learning this game," said Triano.