Quotes from Day 2 of Canada Basketball’s practice at the Air Canada Center.
The Golden Generation of Canadian Men’s Basketball isn’t here yet, but it’s on the way.
With names like Tyler Ennis, Tristan Thompson, Andrew Nicholson, Kelly Olynyk, Nik Stauskas, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins selected in the first round of the NBA draft over the last three years, it’s hard not to be excited for Canada’s basketball future. At this rate, the day will soon come when Canada has to say no to an NBA player. Imagine that.
Excitement for basketball in Canada is reaching a precipice. Coupled with the recent success of the Toronto Raptors, the nation is starting to take notice, bringing newfound intrigue, and expectation for the incoming class of youngsters. It’s all about what comes next — everyone is excited about the future.
Only, the future isn’t here yet. It’s on the way, but that’s a process. Before dreams of Ennis throwing alley-oops to Wiggins becomes a reality, they’ll first have to learn how to play and win together. It’s a process.
And the process is being shepherded along by the team’s longstanding veterans and coaching staff. The organization currently stands at a low, having failed to qualify for the FIBA World Cup this summer, but their heads hang high with their sights firmly set on the future. They’re all pulling in the same direction — towards becoming one of the best teams in the world.
They’ll take their first step starts this summer, when the Canadian Men’s National team embarks on an 11-game exhibition tour across Europe. They’ll take on five of the world’s top-15 ranked teams in Spain, Turkey, Serbia, Slovenia and Angola.
“We want to play the best competition in the world,” said head coach Jay Triano. “We’re going to learn a lot of lessons while we’re over there, but that’s what these players need. We need to learn the international game, and that’s why we’re playing these games this summer.”
“It’s all about the experience,” says general manager Steve Nash. “It’s about as good of a tour as you could possibly imagine, playing against great teams. It’s an awesome tour for these guys to gain a lot of experience and to see what the benchmark is for top-level international basketball.”
It’s not just Nash and Triano leading the way for Canada’s future stars. Veterans like Carl English are lining up to take on leadership roles, helping to walk the talk put forth by coaches and management.
English is a mainstay in Canada’s system. His service traces back to 2000, and was a member of the 2009 roster that finished fourth in the FIBA Americans championship. Although he is only 33-years-old with plenty left in the tank, English is embracing his role as the wise sage on the squad.
“I’m very vocal. I think a big part of being a leader is keeping everybody together, keeping everybody positive – every practice, not letting things get you down,” said English. “You can be a leader on those things alone and having a positive attitude. And sometimes, it’s not always good to hear your coach speaking. If your peers hear it from you, and from each other, they tend to be more accountable.”
He also wasn’t shy to set the bar high for himself, and the future members of Canada’s team.
“I say is that our goal for 2016 is to become a top-10 team. I’m not afraid to say that the next one could be beyond my time, but I’ll be very disappointed if these guys aren’t a medal team. They’re a fantastic team, and every year there’s more guys coming. If you just take the class now, the last five years, and give them five years to grow together, it’s going to be fabulous.”
Ranking in the top-10 and medalling will be a tall task. Currently, the team ranks 25th in the world and finds themselves on the outside looking in. National programs like the USA, Spain and Argentina have set the standard for international men’s basketball, and it’s one English would like to see his team reach.
Like everyone, English is excited about the incoming crop of talent in the pipeline, and although age may catch up to him before any podium finishes does, English is more than happy to help guide the team along.
In his eyes, English envisions the team adopting a team-oriented identity, with the team boasting a strong 12-man roster. He cited the San Antonio Spurs as an example.
“The example here is San Antonio. Everyone’s talking about Miami vs. San Antonio. They beat Miami because they’re the best team, and that’s what we’re trying to be. We want to have guys – when you’re playing 10 times in 11 days, guys cant play 35 minutes. No one does that at the international level, not even the Dream Team.”
And for up-and-comers like Dwight Powell and Kelly Olynyk are listening intently, trying to learn from every experience.
“It’s really a blessing,” Powell opined. “The amount of knowledge [the coaching staff] have to impart on us is unlimited and it’s our responsibilities as players to act like sponges and soak up as much as we can. They’re really mentors.”
“Build on coming together, chemistry, build that chemistry as much as we can,” said Olynyk about the team’s upcoming tour.
But no matter the talent on the roster, ascending to the top of the basketball hierarchy will be difficult. The international game vastly differs from the NBA game, or even the NCAA game. With the prevalence of zone defense and the heavy emphasis on three-point shooting, the experience will be “eye-opening”, as Triano notes.
“For some of these guys, it will be eye-opening, to see how passionate their fans are in their countries, and how fine-tuned these teams are. Because the World Championships, in a lot of these countries, is bigger than the Olympic games where more teams participate and more teams have the opportunity to compete.”
And that’s why their upcoming exhibition tour is important. It’s about a young team getting their feet wet as they look to take their first step. And before they take the leap expected of them, they’ll have mainstays like Nash, Triano and English to help them along.
The schedule for their upcoming 11-game tour can be found here. Final roster announcements to come.Follow @raptorsrepublic