Canada is going to have a tough time leaving these three off World Cup roster

There are pros and cons to having one of the deepest pools of basketball talent in the world. And Canada Basketball is going to have a tough time choosing a 12-man roster next summer.

The good thing about having one of the deepest pools of basketball talent in the world is that you can dominate international competition even when half of your program is too busy to participate because they are playing in the NBA. That is exactly what Canada’s senior men’s team did this winter, going 2-0 in Window 5 of competition after dominating 17th ranked Venezuela 94-56 on Thursday and 51st ranked Panama 112-71 on Sunday. 

But the bad part about having so much talent is that when it comes to choosing a 12-man roster for the 2023 World Cup next summer, there are almost too many names to consider. 

Twenty-six athletes suited up for Team Canada so far in the 10 games they have played to qualify for the 2023 World Cup, where they are the only team from the Americas to go 10-0 with a +345 point differential. And that 26 does not include a number of NBA players who were named to the “Summer Core” but who had to sit out games due to injuries or contract negotiations, such as Khem Birch, R.J. Barrett, and Jamal Murray. Nor does it include the NBA players who were not named to the core but who might nevertheless wish to play in the World Cup and have a damn good argument to be included based on talent alone, such as Andrew Wiggins and Chris Boucher. 

Yet the players on that 26-man list are ultimately the ones who enabled Canada to qualify for the World Cup in the first place, so shouldn’t they be given preference when it comes time to choose a squad? After all, when you’re trying to build the culture that Canada Basketball is trying to build, shouldn’t they reward the most committed players with a spot on the roster?

Of course, things are never that simple. And talent almost always wins out in high-level sports. But in Kassius Robertson, Philip Scrubb, and Thomas Scrubb, Canada has three non-NBA players with a legitimate chance of being named to that 12-man squad next summer. Because not only are they the only three players to play all 10 games so far in qualifying, but they are also immensely talented players who have plenty of international basketball experience and who fill holes on the Canada roster. Leaving them off the roster is not going to be easy. 

“Everyone of these guys will get a very hard look at being part of the [2023] roster,” Team Canada associate head coach Nate Bjorkgren said after the win over Venezuela on Thursday when he was asked about the “Winter Core” players qualifying for a World Cup that will ultimately be dominated by NBA talent.  

“There have been a few guys — Kassius, Phil and Tommy — that have been at all [10] games, I believe. You know, Every game that’s been played. So you talk about commitment and high level basketball, they’ve got it.”

Roberston might be the cleanest fit for the World Cup squad given that one area of weakness for the Canadians is three-point shooting and Roberston has it in spades. At 6-foot-3, the guard from Toronto, Ontario can hit threes from all over the floor, comfortably shooting them off the dribble or coming off screens and hitting them on the move. In 10 games of qualification, Robertson hit 31/54 from three, good for better than 57 percent. A lethal weapon from beyond the arc.

Phil and Thomas Scrubb might not be quite as clean a fit as Robertson when it comes to filling a roster hole, but the brothers are two of the most talented and committed ballers Canada has ever had, with a wealth of international experience. Together, they have combined to play more than 80 games with the senior team since debuting in 2015 — experience that could prove crucial in a win-or-go-home international tournament against the best teams in the world next summer.

While the Scrubb brothers aren’t technically a package deal, they are best when playing beside each other, racking up five straight national championships at Carleton University and currently playing for Monbus Obradoiro of the Liga ACB in Spain. Thomas is a low-post hub with shooting and passing chops and Phil a fast-paced playmaker with a lethal outside shot, with the two of them leading Canada in assists with 33 for Phil and 26 for Thomas through 10 games.

“Obviously [we are happy] to qualify, and I think doing it in Canada is really, really cool, too,” Philip Scrubb told me last week over the phone. “But the goal for the program isn’t necessarily just to qualify: iIt’s to medal at the World Cup and then medal at the Olympics. So there’s a long goal ahead, and I think once we qualify, we just kind of move on to the next thing and focus on that.”

While it might sounds crazy to take any one of these three players over a more known NBA name (there are 22 Canadian NBA players this season), the reality is that high level European players — which all three of them are, with Roberston playing in Italy’s top league and the Scrubb brothers playing in Spain’s top league — are often just as good as bottom-tier NBA players. In fact, the difference between the 15th man on an NBA roster and the best players on a European team often has more to do with preference than with talent, and anyone who watches these three Canadians will realize that they could be borderline NBA players if they chose to. There are other non-NBA players who will get a hard look at a roster spot, too, such as Melvin Ejim and Kevin Pangos, but none as talented and committed to the national team as the aforementioned three.

“No matter what, whatever the roster is, whatever shape it takes, every guy has tried to do their part along the way for this team and for this country and that says and means a lot,” Bjorkgren said.

But words are cheap. If Canada Basketball really wants to reward players for their steadfast commitment and if they want to invest even further into chemistry and continuity, Robertson, Philip Scrubb and Thomas Scrubb should all be seriously considered for the Canadian team in 2023. 

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