EDMONTON — Canada is going to the FIBA World Cup.
Kassius Robertson’s 16-point performance helped Canada's men's basketball team beat Venezuela 94-56 on Thursday to clinch a berth in next summer's major international tournament.
"It's obviously a good feeling," said Thomas Scrubb, who finished with 12 points and four assists, and has travelled across the Americas for all nine of Canada's qualifying games. "It's a lot of different windows, a lot of travel, so, to be able to do it at home and pretty early in the process is good for us. Now we can focus on the World Cup going forward.”
Owen Klassen had 11 points and 10 rebounds for Canada (9-0), while Kenny Chery had 12 points and six assists.
Canada absolutely dominated Venezuela on the glass, out-rebounding the visitors 54-26. The Venezuelans could not get offensive boards to stretch possessions, getting just five second-chance points on the night.
“We really talked about rebounding in preparing for this game,” said Klassen. “We looked at the two big guys they have and they were averaging four offensive rebounds per game. It was our focus to take their games away and let the guards get the rebounds if they have to.
"We wanted to make sure those guys didn’t get second chances.”
The two Venezuelan rebounders Klassen referred to were Miguel Ruiz and Nestor Colmenares, and they were held to two offensive boards each.
Chery, all of five-foot-11, finished with seven rebounds, which spoke to Canada’s commitment on the defensive end.
“It’s five guys rebounding every time,” said Klassen.
Jhornan Zamora led Venezuela (7-2) with 14 points and three rebounds.
The game's start time was pushed back 25 minutes because of the Venezuelan team's late arrival. When Canada got onto the floor for pre-game warm-up, the Venezuelans were still nowhere to be seen.
Canada came out hard early in the first quarter and pressed the Venezuelans, who just got off a plane a couple of hours before the game.
“We were told from the get-go that this might have been a little distraction tactic, so we were pretty locked in,” said Klassen. “We were laser-focused. We had seen articles on the news that they didn’t have visas, that if they were going to get on a flight, it was going to be the same day.
"But, we came to play a basketball game. We were ready, regardless.”
The Venezuelans did not speak to the media after the game.
Most leagues around the world break for the FIBA qualifying windows, but not the NBA. So, the Canadian team that qualified Thursday was made up almost entirely of players who are plying their trades in Europe.
“It means a lot,” said Robertson, who plays for Italian club Reggio Emilia. “A lot of us come from far away to come play these games. For me, and I can speak for a lot of guys on the team, this is almost like a vacation for us.
"We’re super focused, but being with our countrymen and being on Canadian soil is amazing for us.”
With Canada putting high pressure on the ball, and often double-teaming the player on the dribble, the Venezuelans missed their first six shots. Of their first eight attempts, three were air balls. It took almost four minutes for the Venezuelans to hit a shot, a Zamora three-pointer.
A towering block by Klassen, stuffing a Windi Graterol layup attempt, brought the crowd in Edmonton to its feet. Canada finished the first quarter up 25-10.
Venezuela went on a nine-point run in the second quarter to reduce the deficit to 10 points, but it was as close as they got.
In the second quarter. Klassen had the highlight-reel basket of the first half, finishing an alley-oop pass from Chery.
Canada stretched the lead in the third quarter, outscoring Venezuela 24-11 in the frame. If there was any life left in the visitors, it was taken out of them by Robertson, who hit a three-pointer, was fouled in the act of shooting, and iced the four-point play by making the free throw.
By the fourth quarter, with the result well in hand, baskets from the visitors generated polite applause from the home crowd.
Although Canada has clinched, winning its remaining games could improve its world ranking and seeding heading into the World Cup. And while many roster spots for the World Cup will go to Canadians playing in the NBA and therefore weren’t available for this qualifying window, Scrubb said the players who are here owe it to the program to give it their all, even if they might not get selected for the World Cup itself.
“The guys who are here, we’ve got to play hard, and represent our country well,” said Scrubb.
NEXT FOR CANADA: Panama’s national team (2-6) will play Canada Sunday in Edmonton.
NOTES: Canada is ranked No. 15 in men’s basketball by FIBA. Venezuela is 17th. … At 9-0, Canada is the only undefeated team of the 12 teams remaining in two Americas qualifying groups …. In FIBA, teams get two points for a win, but one for a loss. The only way to get nothing out of a game is via forfeit …. Of the 12 teams in Americas qualifying, Canada has the most points, with 914 over nine games. Canada is the only team averaging more than 100 points per game.
Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press