Canada lands in tough Manila qualifier for last shot at Olympic bid

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FIBA revealed the pools for the three 2016 Olympic Qualifying Tournaments on Tuesday, and here’s hoping you didn’t waste your time trying to tune in. It was a long, drawn-out, and somewhat confusing 30 minutes. At least everyone got to see Jorge Garbajosa and Rasho Nesterovic.

Canada’s draw couldn’t have come out much worse. They’ll be playing in Manila, Philippines, in a tournament with France, Turkey, Senegal, New Zealand, and the host country. If that seems like a six-some Canada may grade out OK in, sure, it does, definitely. Unfortunately, Canada has to win the tournament to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and France and Turkey would both be favored ahead of them. New Zealand also has a higher FIBA ranking as of October, and Philippines and Senegal are close behind Canada’s No. 26 perch.

Canada is likely better than that ranking suggests, but the fact remains, even the best Canadian squad emerging from this group with an Olympic bid would be considered at least a minor upset. (France is ranked No. 5 and Turkey No. 8.)

The tournament will take place July 4-10, with the Olympics following Aug. 6-21. Canada will play Turkey and Senegal on July 5 and 6, respectively, and if they don’t finish last in the three-team pool move on to a semi-final on JUly 9, with a final to follow on July 10. And again, they have to win the entire thing, so while they could conceivably suffer a loss in the first two games, they’ll almost surely need to beat Turkey and France at some point to advance.

The double-duty could serve to limit the number of Canadian NBA players willing (or able) to attend, though it’s certainly a positive that the team skews young and has few pending free agents. Jamal Murray could face availability issues to soon after the draft and Dwight Powell and Andrew Nicholson will be heading into free agency (Canada training camp and the qualifier occur before the NBA’s free agent moratorium is lifted). That cost Canada both Murray and Tristan Thompson last summer, and it stands as at least a minor threat with Canada asking players to block out two chunks of their offseason.

France could run into similar issues, with Nic Batum and Evan Fournier free agents, Joakim Noah coming back from injury, Tony Parker aging, and so on. By comparison to some other teams, Canada’s potential player availability is still quite strong.

It’s tough to project who may suit up for Canada, but there will almost surely be a Raptors presence. Off the top of my head, here’s what a 15-man training camp could look like if everyone’s available (they’d only be able to bring 12 to Manila):

PG: Cory Joseph , Jamal Murray, Tyler Ennis
SG: Brady Heslip, Nik Stauskas, Carl English (the team really missed his presence at FIBAs)
SF: Andrew Wiggins, Melvin Ejim (has taken real strides in the D-League)
PF: Tristan Thompson, Trey Lyles (he’s so good, don’t sleep), Anthony Bennett, Kyle WIltjer
C: Kelly Olynyk, Dwight Powell, Andrew Nicholson

You’d also have Olivier Hanlan, Jordan Bachynski, Bobby Sacre, Jordan Baker, and Phil Scrubb as options, too. Point guard’s a weak position (let Taevaunn Prince gun!), but Canada has great frontcourt depth (a lot of bigs who can shoot) and could play a larger lineup to give teams some trouble that way.

All in all, the draw is somewhat of a disappointment, one Canada caused themselves with their misstep last summer. The fact remains that Canada really squandered a golden opportunity at the 2015 FIBA Americas, and while it’s not a death knell to their hopes, it was their best chance to get into their first Olympics since 2000.

But with full commitment, they can put together a pretty competitive roster. Hope isn’t lost yet, and there’s still a great deal of momentum in the Canada Basketball program. Don’t rule out a surprise run.

As a side note, we don’t normally cover Canada Basketball here, as it’s a Raptors site first. Given there are two Raptors who stand to make the team, I thought I should write it up. It’s something I’d like to do more of, but I don’t want to risk alienating Raptors fans who don’t care about the national program. I’ll probably put feelers out closer to the qualifying tournament to see if there’s an appetite for coverage.

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