Reasons for optimism despite Canada's men's basketball failing to qualify for Tokyo

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·3 min read
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Canada's RJ Barrett reacts after making a basket during a 103-101 overtime loss to the Czech Republic on Sunday in the FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament in Victoria, B.C. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Canada's RJ Barrett reacts after making a basket during a 103-101 overtime loss to the Czech Republic on Sunday in the FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament in Victoria, B.C. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Despite a heartbreaking defeat to the Czech Republic at a last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament in Victoria, B.C., on the weekend, Canada flashed glimpses of what the future might hold for the program.

In a tight contest where Andrew Wiggins sent the game to overtime, Canada lost by a mere two-point margin due to a Tomas Satoransky game-winning jumper.

With a stronger talent pool to pick from, including multiple key absences due to injury, hopes should be higher than ever for the future of Canadian men's basketball.

In the latest episode of CBC Sports video series North Courts, panellists Vivek Jacob, Meghan McPeak and Jevohn Shepherd discuss where the Canadian men's basketball program stands after missing out on Tokyo 2020, the biggest takeaways from the FIBA qualifying tournament, the support and growth the program needs moving forward, and predictions on the starting five of the Canadian women's Olympic team.

WATCH | North Courts panel discusses future of Canada's men's basketball program:

Shepherd, a former member of the Canadian national team and current general manager of the CEBL's Ottawa BlackJacks, feels as though the team has room to develop even better chemistry, highlighting a need for more international experience together.

"It's just going to take this team coming together, getting some continuity, just playing together, getting some exhibition games together and just knowing each other," Shepherd said. "Because again, this is a talented group, but this is the first time this group has played together and it can't be like that going forward.

"There's been commitment ... Shai [Gilgeous-Alexander], commitment from Andrew Wiggins, there's been commitment from RJ [Barrett]. Now it's time to build on that, continue to build on that, and nurture that. I think the core group is there, and I think the plan in place has to be a 12-, 16-, 20-year plan, as opposed to 'hey, you have a talented group right now, there's 10 guys, throw them out there and they should get the job done.'"

Canada boasts the most NBA talent of any country aside from the U.S., but with certain top talents like Jamal Murray, Gilgeous-Alexander and Dillon Brooks having been unable to compete, the task at hand was made even more difficult.

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented issues in the form of timing regarding the contract situations of certain players in the NBA, injuries, and how close the NBA season has been to qualification for some players.

"In a perfect world, and the pandemic never hit a year ago, these guys would not have been in the contract situations that they're in right now," McPeak said. "We would hopefully not have an injured Jamal Murray or an injured Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. We wouldn't have a Dillon Brooks who's not playing because of the [Memphis Grizzlies' playoff] run.

"A year ago ... I think Canada wins that tournament [in Victoria]."

With even more up-and-coming talent from the north, including the thriving U19 team currently undefeated in the U19 FIBA World Cup in Latvia, Canadians have plenty to look forward to on the road to qualification for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

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