By Cole Parkinson
Despite a roster filled with NBA players, the Canadian men’s national basketball team failed to qualify for the coming 2020 Olympics in Tokyo after being eliminated in the qualifying tournament held last week in Victoria.
After not qualifying for the Olympics for the previous 21 years, this roster, along with Toronto Raptors’ head coach Nick Nurse, looked poised to finally get over the hurdle. But it wasn’t meant to be as the Canadians were eliminated last weekend in 103-101 in overtime against the Czech Republic.
Canada fell back early on but staged a come back before ultimately falling in the extra frame.
The fact the roster boasted eight NBA players — Nickeil Alexander-Walker (New Orleans), RJ Barrett (New York), Luguentz Dort (Oklahoma City), Cory Joseph (Detroit), Trey Lyles (San Antonio), Mychal Mulder, Andrew Wiggins (Golden State), and Dwight Powell (Dallas) — it certainly looked like a roster capable of qualifying, which you couldn’t always say about previous iterations throughout the years.
And with a world-class coach in Nick Nurse, it’s hard to argue this is the best the team has looked in quite a while. But the team was dealt a big blow earlier this spring when Denver Nugget star guard Jamal Murray was knocked out of action with an ACL tear. Taking Murray off this team was a massive blow. If you’ve watched him play over the past several years, you know what he brings on the floor — plenty of offence, good energy and he has the clutch gene, I mean just look at his 2020 playoff highlights.
Memphis forward Dillon Brooks also would have helped, but he decided right before the tournament he would not be playing. Another massive player missing was Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who was nursing a foot injury at the time. Kelly Olynyk or Khem Birch both elected not to play as they are headed to free agency, which is pretty understandable. It’s been well known for years and years that Canada has trouble attracting its star players to play for them when it comes to qualifying for the Olympics, and while many did just that this year, more are obviously needed.
So, while it’s disappointing we won’t see the Canadian men in this summer’s Olympics, the organization is preaching patience and stating the team appears to be heading towards an Olympic appearance in the near future. The problem is there’s a wait until 2024 before they get another chance, and make no mistake, if every Canadian basketball player committed to playing for the team, they’d get in.
A big focus has to be bringing Nurse back. He hasn’t committed to 2024, which is understandable as it’s years away, but if he wants to come back and coach, Canada basketball will no doubt welcome him back with open arms. Nurse has proven over the last several years he’s one of the top coaches in the league, and by all accounts, players like playing for him, so if he wants to come back, that would be a great start.
And while the men have been eliminated, the women are gearing up for the tournament. The women’s team also qualifyed for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro where they were eliminated in the quarter-finals against France.
The roster for 2020 features Natalie Achonwa (Guelph, Ont.), Kayla Alexander (Milton, Ont.), Laeticia Amihere (Mississauga, Ont.), Miranda Ayim (London, Ont.), Bridget Carleton (Chatham, Ont.), Shay Colley (Brampton, Ont.), Aaliyah Edwards (Kingston, Ont.), Nirra Fields (Montreal, Que.), Kim Gaucher (Mission, B.C.), Kia Nurse (Hamilton, Ont.), Shaina Pellington (Pickering, Ont.), and Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe (Toronto, Ont.).
The Canadian women open the Olympics against Serbia on July 26, followed by the Republic of Korea on July 29, and Spain on Aug. 1. The quarterfinals will take place on Aug. 4, and the semifinals on Aug. 6. Medals will be handed out on Aug. 8 with both the bronze and gold medal matches.