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Heart and Passion among Key Ingredients for Canada Men’s Basketball

Canada is two wins away from qualifying for its first Olympic Games since 2000.

When Nick Nurse speaks at the podium during media availabilities, people listen.

He provides insightful basketball analysis, cracks a joke, which is followed by his contagious laugh. There is a balancing act between praise for his players, with subtle motivating messages to get them to maximize their performances. 

On Friday, Nurse spoke about his squad ahead of Canada’s semi-final matchup against the Czech Republic in the Olympic Qualifier in Victoria, B.C. There’s a lot to be proud of for the undefeated Canadian squad; they recorded two victories on back-to-back nights, including a 109-79 rout against China. 

Nurse, however, devoted his Friday press conference to speak on the core of this team’s identity. 

Heart and passion. The main ingredients that make up this Canadian team looking to qualify for its first Olympic Games since 2000.

“The heart is the key to this team,” said Team Canada head coach Nick Nurse. 

It’s not like this Canadian team had tons of time to prepare for the Qualifier. Because of the NBA season creeping into the spring, coupled with travel restrictions, Team Canada first trained in Tampa before arriving in Victoria. Every group clicks at different times but according to Nurse, it occurred in the hallway before the first practice, when the guys connected. 

“I noticed something the first day they came together for camp. An energetic joyous reunion,” Nurse said. 

Heart and passion were terms that defined the men’s Canadian basketball program of the past. Recently, however, the world never witnessed Canada at its full potential. Players maximizing their value in free agency and protecting their health prevented them from suiting up for Canada on the international stage. 

Now, Canadian basketball players are inspired to represent their country for a chance to compete in the Olympics. A large part of the program’s transformation is credited to general manager Rowan Barrett. A member of the 2000 team that qualified for the Sydney Olympics, Barrett knows what it takes to compete on the global stage. After witnessing the disappointment in Mexico City at the 2015 FIBA AmeriCup, where Canada lost to Venezuela by one point, Barrett knew a change needed to occur. He became the general manager in 2019, with his first significant move happening that summer, hiring Nick Nurse as the Canadian men’s head coach. Nurse came off winning an NBA Championship with the Toronto Raptors, where he demonstrated his innovative schemes on both ends of the floor. His connection with players around the league, including the Canadians, brought a new level of legitimacy to Canada Basketball. 

“Nick is a champion. He was a champion before he won with the Toronto Raptors. He knows how to win,” Barrett said. “It was important to find someone who understood how to do that.”

Nurse preaches an unselfish brand of basketball to his players. In the round-robin games of the Olympic Qualifier, the guys on the floor shared the basketball, getting out in transition to dictate a quick pace. Look no further than Andrew Wiggins, who is leading Team Canada in scoring averaging 21.5 points per game. The Golden State Warriors small forward is continuing his stellar play after the 2020-21 NBA season, shooting the ball with confidence and exuding veteran experience amongst the group. 

RJ Barrett, the son of Team Canada’s general manager, isn’t shying away from this big stage on home soil. He was the player of the game in Canada’s 97-91 win over Greece, where he was a +20, putting up 22 points, five rebounds, and three assists. After a sluggish first half, Barrett took over for Canada against Greece, effective in the pick and roll, shooting the three and attacking the rim with force. 

“I think they’re probably two of our primary guys, two-way players,” Nurse said of Wiggins and Barrett after Wednesday’s game. “I think it gives us some versatility to play a little bigger. That’s a pretty good two-guard/small forward combo, whichever way you want to look at it.

On both ends of the floor, Canada’s passion is apparent. Whether it’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker shooting threes or Luguentz Dort coming off the bench to lock down on defense, there’s a commitment to execution that is different with this version of Canada than of previous teams. Against China, Canada had seven players record double-digit points. 

Once again, unselfishness at work. 

“We’re here with one goal and that is to win games,” said Canada big man Dwight Powell. 

This weekend is, without doubt, one of the most consequential for the men’s Canadian program. Two games, two wins away from a berth in the Tokyo Olympics. 

Canada should qualify, given the depth of talent it possesses. But what’s on paper versus playing a game and completing the task are vastly different. 

In front of 720 fans, with Rowan Barrett watching on, Nick Nurse coaching, and a selfless group on the floor, there will be no shortage of heart and passion as Canada looks to rewrite a new kind of history for its men’s program. 

Schedule of Games:

 Saturday, July 3rd:

Canada vs. Czech Republic (4:05pm ET, CBC/DAZN)

Turkey vs. Greece (7:35pm ET, DAZN)

Sunday July 4th:

Winner Semifinal #1 vs. Winner Semifinal #2 (7:05pm ET, CBC/DAZN)