Almost a week ago, I wrote that in opening their FIBA Basketball World Cup showing with two losses to Australia and Lithuania, Team Canada’s World Cup performance was a disappointment. That is no longer entirely the case.
Canada dispatched Senegal 82-60 before throttling Jordan 126-71. It was clear in both games that Canada cared desperately about the margin of victory; the more points by which Canada won, the better they would be ranked in their tournament finish. Both games saw every Canadian player score at least one point. Despite huge scoring outings from Cory Joseph and Kyle Wiltjer, Canada’s wins were collective efforts. That’s how the team needs to win without the majority of its NBA players on the floor.
This morning, Canada came close against a good team in Germany. Even though Canada led by double digits near the end of the third quarter, they fouled too many jumpshooters and couldn’t get the offense on track late. Canada lost 82-76, which dropped the team to 2-3 as its final tally for the World Cup. However, because Canada finished with a positive scoring margin, it finished either 21st or 22nd in the tournament, its best showing (if 21st) since 2002. Canada didn’t have a high bar to clear, but even without some of its best players, the team still is performing better than it has over most of the past two decades.
On the plus side, Canada has now officially qualified for a six-team tournament that will take place next summer. If they win that tournament – and Canada will likely not have to face teams the caliber of Australia – they will qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. That’s a big prize, and despite the setbacks early at the World Cup, Canada remains somewhat on track to play in its first Olympics since 2000.
The assumption, of course, is that Canada’s top players – including Jamal Murray, Tristan Thompson, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and others – would join the program in the Olympics. But the World Cup performance should prove that without Canada’s best, it’s possible that the country doesn’t even qualify for the Olympics. Samson Folk and I discussed how to build relationships between Canada’s best players and its national program on his most recent pod. Regardless, the team at least has positive momentum going forward. The nightmare scenarios the team faced after falling 0-2 to start the World Cup are avoided, and the Olympics are back in play. A week after disappointment was the buzz word, now Team Canada has some cause for celebration.