Canada Basketball got off to a poor start before the FIBA World Cup even began.
With a huge amount of hope that this Canada team – perhaps with the best crop of players in Canadian history – could compete for a medal at the World Cup, players began dropping like flies. NBAers like Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Dwight Powell chose to focus on skill development in preparation for the NBA season rather risking injury and representing their country. RJ Barrett and Jamal Murray withdrew due to injury. The list grew. When the dust settled, Canada was left with only Khem Birch on the roster – joined by Cory Joseph layer – as NBA rotation players representing their country. The team was mostly populated by names very familiar to fans of Canada basketball; the Scrubb brothers, Melvin Ejim, Kyle Wiltjer, Brady Heslip, and others were featured on the roster. The group has played for Canada plenty in the past, and their dedication is admirable, but they don’t boast as much talent as the Canadians left off of the roster. Shiny new head coach Nick Nurse was left with an uphill battle in chasing success at the World Cup.
Along with the disappointing roster announcements, Canada was placed in perhaps the most difficult group in the World Cup, along with medal hopefuls Lithuania and Australia, as well as a very strong team in Senegal.
Canada lost its first contest in the group stage 108-92 to Australia. The guard play from Joseph and Kevin Pangos was solid, as the two combined for 30 points and 12 assist, but the team’s defense was lacking. Australia guards Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova continually waltzed into the lane, where they met too little resistance. Australia shot 58.2 percent from the field.
Of course, a loss to Australia was somewhat expected. Canada really needed to beat the big-heavy Lithuania, against whom Birch’s interior defense could prove an incredible weapon. Unfortunately, Lithuania out-rebounded Canada 46-27, including an advantage of 19 offensive rebounds to Canada’s 18 defensive. Canada couldn’t overcome that deficit, despite 24 points from Wiltjer off the bench.
After two losses to start its tournament, Canada is officially eliminated from medal contention in the World Cup. Its high hopes to start the tournament are dashed, but the writing has been on the wall since Canada’s stars started dropping off the roster. This shouldn’t come as too dramatic a surprise, but it still is a heavy disappointment.
Canada still has games left in the tournament, and it still has plenty for which to play. Though Canada cannot qualify for the 2020 Olympics directly, it can still qualify for a qualifying tournament if it places in the 17-23 range. Canada will play Senegal on Thursday for its final game in the group stage, and then it will play two classification games to determine its placing among the 32 teams in the tournament. The results of those games, as well as the margins of victory or defeat, will determine the path for the national program over the next year.
It has been a real worst case scenario of a tournament so far for Team Canada. Canada still has a chance to qualify for next year’s Olympics, even if the team has to take the long road. But if Canada doesn’t have more buy-in from its top talent, the team may continue to struggle to qualify for the Olympics.