After the widespread disappointment of the Tokyo Olympics, Canada Basketball took a step forward in 2022.
Further progress in 2023 would lay the foundation for a more successful Paris Olympics next year.
In five-on-five, the men's team could secure its spot for the first time since 2000, while the women can ensure they reach the Olympic qualifying tournament in Feb. 2024. In three-on-three, Canada's women will hope to build on a dominant 2022 run, while the men can also take steps toward qualifying.
Canada Basketball CEO Michael Bartlett and others spoke to CBC Sports on Friday as the organization unveiled a new partnership with Flair Airlines.
Bartlett said the last two years or so have been about identifying and removing barriers to success.
"Maybe we didn't have enough coaching in our system that was connected. Maybe we didn't have long enough training camps. Maybe we didn't have the best training camp competition scrimmages," Bartlett said.
"So we invested heavily in that in '22. We will again in '23, so we could just make this about basketball talent vs. basketball talent. I've got a lot of faith in our talent."
The first major tournament of 2023 is the women's FIBA AmeriCup in July, with Canada coming off a fourth-place finish at the World Cup in the fall — its best placement at a major tournament since 1986.
A top-two AmeriCup finish would send Canada straight into February's Olympic qualifying tournament, bypassing a pre-qualifier in November. Before 2021's competition, Canada has reached the final in four straight AmeriCups.
Head coach Victor Lapeña says his eyes are set on a championship.
"The most important is to create the team to be able to compete in AmeriCup. Not just looking to get the [second] place or Olympics qualification. … We have to play to win the AmeriCup, always this is my style. Let's win, let's win, let's win," he said.
The tournament may also be a developmental one, as WNBAers Kia Nurse, Bridget Carleton and Natalie Achonwa are unlikely to be available.
Instead, a college player like Notre Dame's Cassandre Prosper or high school senior like Crestwood's Toby Fournier could make their senior team debuts. Both have already attended a pair of training camps.
"They may or may not make the Paris team, but they're definitely going to make it in [Los Angeles at the 2028 Olympics] and they're already going to be indoctrinated into the systems and the style of play and the culture," Bartlett said.
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The men have a more direct route to Paris, needing a top-two finish among Americas teams to book a ticket directly to Paris at the World Cup which begins in August across Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines.
One of those Americas spots will likely go to the U.S., leaving the likes of Canada, Argentina and Brazil to fight it out for the other spot.
Fall short, and you're back in a last-chance Olympic qualifier.
"I want to win a World Cup medal. I want to hit that podium. But I also don't want to ever play in June, a month before the Olympics ever again. And nor should we. We've got the talent that we shouldn't need to," Bartlett said.
Canada has to be feeling good about its chances, given the star turn of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in Oklahoma City in addition to the return of Denver's Jamal Murray and talent across the NBA like Golden State's Andrew Wiggins and Indiana rookies Bennedict Mathurin and Andrew Nembhard.
However, not all of those players are on the 14-man commitment list Canada introduced last year, with the idea being that if those players continued to show up in the leadup to Paris, their spot as potential Olympians would be secured.
The hard questions aren't difficult to imagine: what if that group of 14 isn't your best 14 for the World Cup or Olympics?
"This is interesting too. Benn and Andrew, who are having a great year with Indiana, weren't even in the NBA when we created our core roster. So there are some nuances that we'll have to look at," Bartlett said.
"What we do know is that our core 14, we trust in who we've picked to be the best possible team for us the next two years."
WATCH | Canada books spot in men's World Cup:
Meanwhile, Canada's women's three-on-three team might have been the most dominant squad in the country in 2022.
The core group of Katherine and Michelle Plouffe, plus Paige Crozon and Kacie Bosch, won silver at the World Cup to begin the season, then didn't lose a single game again through the Women's Series Final over four tournaments together.
In the scheme of the Olympics, all that success was merely a foundation. The goal now is clear: get to Paris.
"It would be really special, especially for me in 3x3, because I've been a part of it from the beginnings of high level and so that kind of involvement is just a different level of investment and ownership," Katherine Plouffe said.
Following the World Cup, both Plouffes noted they had only one staff member with them at the tournament, a physio, while champion France had "about eight."
But Katherine said that's slowly improved over the past year, though there is nothing "officially concrete."
"It'll be interesting to see like how we can incorporate more people to grow," she said. "There's definitely open communication. Michael has a vision for 3x3, which has been really cool to have that support and hear his excitement about it."