TORONTO — A somber mood fell over the OVO Athletic Centre when it was announced that the Canadian men’s basketball team will be without several headliners for the upcoming FIBA World Cup.
Jamal Murray and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are among notable absences in the updated 19-man roster released before Monday’s practice. Murray cited a minor ankle injury, while Gilgeous-Alexander — who took part in the OVO Bounce tournament last week in Toronto — was not at practice. They join Andrew Wiggins (undisclosed), R.J. Barrett (calf) and Tristan Thompson (personal) as notable contributors who will not be representing Team Canada in the World Cup in China.
“I think you can see all across the world that this was a challenging thing. We managed the best that we could,” general manager Rowan Barrett Sr. said.
Heading into training camp, there was a distinct possibility of Canada fielding a 12-man roster comprised entirely of NBA-level players. A record-setting seven Canadians had their name called during the 2019 NBA Draft, and this maturation of talent was timed perfectly as a semifinal berth at the 2019 World Cup would qualify Canada for its first trip back to the Olympics since Sydney in 2000.
That task invariably becomes more difficult without its top guns, but nobody is licking their wounds or pointing fingers. To a man, each member of the team was careful and consistent in not placing blame on those missing in action.
“I think the worst thing you can do is look at each individual guy and say, ‘Well, you could have played. You could have played. You could have.’ We’re not going to do that. We’re going to focus on who’s here,” Barrett said.
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Instead, post-game discussions were centred around highlighting the commitment of those in attendance towards the cause of representing Canada on the global stage. Veterans like Kelly Olynyk and Cory Joseph have consistently committed time to the program dating back a decade, and they will serve as leaders of the program this summer and beyond.
“To be able to compete for your country and help your country out, put your country on the map, it's something special. And to be able to put on a jersey with Canada on the front, it's a prideful thing, it's a special thing,” Olynyk told reporters.
“It's an opportunity that'll pass you by quicker than you think, so to be able to come out here and do that, it's always something to look back on, tell your kids, your family, friends. It's something in the history books, so it's something to do and something not to take for granted,” he added.
How it will look
Newly hired head coach Nick Nurse is still building familiarity with the group, but in the early going, he anticipates building an offence centred around a team game as opposed to an attack built around individual scorers.
“They were super unselfish, they moved the ball, I thought they executed some things really well, we drew up a few plays, put in a few OBs (out of bounds plays) etcetera and those things were all done at a high-IQ level. For me, it was a helluva first morning,” Nurse said.
Nurse will work out this current group of 19, before likely deciding on 12 players for the tournament after the two exhibition games against Nigeria scheduled for this Wednesday and Friday.
Create your own luck
Assistant coach Nate Bjorkgren called for a huddle at the end of practice to hand out, of all things, lottery tickets.
Much like how the Raptors traded WWE-style belts, Bjorkgren’s tickets were awarded as prizes for those who practised the hardest. Olynyk and Kevin Pangos were named winners on the basis that those two recorded the most deflections.
For what it’s worth, the next jackpot is worth an estimated $7 million. Even for professional athletes, that’s hardly something to sneeze at.
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