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Canadian men’s basketball team’s road to the 2014 World Cup begins in Venezuela

The FIBA Americas Championship represents a big opportunity for Canada. (The Canadian Press)The 2013 FIBA Americas Championships represents a significant first step towards the future for Canada’s senior men’s basketball team.

There’s been plenty of excitement surrounding this program for the last year, beginning in May of 2012 when Steve Nash was named as the team’s general manager, and now comes the first real chance to prove that the ‘golden age’ for Canada Basketball has arrived.

There are however, two different schools of thought when it comes to the importance of Canada finding success at the upcoming tournament in Venezuela – they’ll need to finish in the top four of a 10-team field to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Spain.

On the one hand the tournament holds a substantial amount of importance in terms of building a foundation within the program based on success, giving the roster as much opportunity to gel on the court together and keeping fans interested. There’s a buzz around this team right now – fans packed into the Mattamy Athletic Centre in Toronto for a two-game exhibition series with Jamaica earlier in August – and in order to maintain it, this group of players needs to give fans a reason to buy into the hype. Qualifying for the 2014 World Cup would be a good start.

“We’re desperate to qualify (for the Worlds next summer) but we may not,” Nash told the media in late July. “But no matter what we have to stick to the plan and the plan is to develop our players, to form a chemistry, to give them experience at an international level and the best way to do that is to qualify and give them another experience next summer.”

That said, there are plenty of question marks heading into Venezuela. The team has only had a few weeks to come together and learn each other’s tendencies as well as head coach Jay Triano’s systems. While they were collectively able to string together back-to-back victories at home against Jamaica, they went 0-4 at the Tuto Marchand Cup, a tune-up tournament in Puerto Rico, last week.

But the upcoming FIBA Americas Championship isn’t an all-or-nothing scenario for Canada. While failing to qualify for the World Cup would likely be a tough blow for the program, it’s important to remember that there are pieces missing from this roster that will likely play key roles in the near future, most importantly when Canada attempts to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Yes, Cory Joseph, Andrew Nicholson, Joel Anthony and Tristan Thompson inject a historic amount of NBA talent onto the roster, but Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Kelly Olynyk won’t take to the court at the upcoming tournament. Wiggins, projected to be the first-overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, is dedicating the remainder of his summer to prepare for his rookie season in the NCAA while Bennett, who was selected first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in June, and Olynyk, a first-round selection of the Boston Celtics, recover from injuries.

Those missing pieces are what will help turn Canada into a potential medal contender in 2016 and maybe an even more realistic contender at the 2020 Games, depending on how each of those aforementioned talents develops on their own in the NBA. But the senior men’s national team will have to pass their first meaningful test without them.

It all begins Friday, when Canada kicks off the FIBA Americas Championship against Jamaica.

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