Fan Duel Toronto Raptors

The Canadian Women’s basketball team are here to stay

Canada is off to the Olympics.

It was early afternoon on SuperBowl Sunday as diehard Canadian basketball fans were watching a game broadcast from a tournament in Budapest. Oh wait, hadn’t the Canadian women’s team already played that morning? Yes. And winning that game would have secured them an Olympic berth. But after they lost 86-82 to Japan, Canadian fans and players both were riveted by watching Spain trying to make a fourth-quarter comeback against Hungary after falling behind by 22 points.

In the dying seconds, Hungary ran up the court with the ball. They were just one point behind and a single basket would do. They missed. The Canadian women jumped for joy: they had secured a spot in the 2024 Paris Olympic games alongside the men, who qualified last summer.

Canada, ranked fifth in the world, was playing in the “group of death” in a last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament with fourth-ranked Spain, ninth-ranked Japan and 19th-ranked Hungary. Canada had a very convincing win against the hosts Hungary in their opening match. But then they lost two nail biters against Spain and Japan, leaving their Olympic prospects to the mercy of luck and other teams.

This Canadian program had been yearning for some luck as they missed Kia Nurse — arguably their best player — heading into the tournament and then also missed star NCAA players such as Aaliyah Edwards and Cassandre Prosper because their schools did not allow them to play.

Over the years, Canada’s women’s basketball team has been a stalwart while the men often disappointed. They had made the three previous Olympics, led by the likes of Natalie Achonwa and Kayla Alexander. They came fourth at the 2022 FIBA World Cup—their best world performance since the 1936 Olympics. 

What people don’t know is that when the women’s team makes the Olympics, it gives Canada Basketball the ability to make revenue off sponsorships. For example, the Raptors have teamed up with the women’s team to have a Raptors patch on their jersey. That is one small example of the revenue that has come in and will be larger with the women making the Olympics. With that money, Canada Basketball not only can invest in the current women’s team but also in youth girls’ programs and teams around the country. Not to mention the visibility that an Olympics provides for the next generation of Canadian girls and boys to see both the women’s and men’s team at the Olympics. (The Canadian men qualified for the Olympics at last summer’s FIBA World Cup.) 

For so many Canadian fans, their introduction to international basketball was Steve Nash in 2000 or Kia Nurse in 2016. This year will mark the first time since 2000 that both the men’s and women’s teams make the Olympics at the same time. 

The hope that Canada can become an international powerhouse in the near future lies in their emerging stars. In this tournament, 18-year-old and five-star recruit heading to Michigan Syla Swords was trusted by Coach Victor Lapena to play some minutes. Meanwhile her young teammate Yvonne Ejim, sister of the veteran Canadian Men player Melvin Ejim, played some crunchtime minutes versus Japan on Sunday. Tag alongside, the aforementioned Edwards and Prosper, Delaney Gibb. This women’s team has plenty of youngsters who were inspired by watching Achonwa, Nurse and Alexander in prior Olympics.

The women’s team, fielding its best in France this summer, should be a stronger, more competitive team than they mounted last week in Budapest. 

Meanwhile the Canadian men may have one of their strongest teams ever. With more than 20 NBA players from the country, they will have more players from whom to draw than any other country outside the United States. Their leader is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who was a star at the FIBA World Cup last summer and is a leading candidate for NBA MVP this season. Dillon Brooks was phenomenal in Jakarta too, scoring 39 points in the decisive bronze medal overtime win over the United States. 

Alongside, Brooks and Gilgeous-Alexander are Lu Dort, Dwight Powell, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and newly minted Raptors RJ Barrett and Kelly Olynyk. As well, there likely to be joined by Jamal Murray, who is the best-ever Canadian to win an NBA Championship and also Andrew Wiggins also has won a championship, in 2022 with the Golden State Warriors. In addition, there are a handful of young and good NBA rotation players around the league such as Andrew Nembhard, Benedict Mathurin, Chris Boucher, Trey Lyles, Shaeden Sharpe, Oshae Brissett, and Cory Joseph. The team will be flush with talent. 

The 2024 Paris Olympic games will potentially be the stage on which Canada will continue emerging as an international basketball powerhouse.