Canada’s men’s basketball team is currently competing in a tournament in Mexico that’s a route for teams from North, Central and South America to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.
As a global basketball power, and defending Olympic champions, the United States is already assured an Olympic berth, so they’re not in Mexico. But plenty of other top teams from the region are including Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela and Puerto Rico.
Heading into the tournament, hopes were high for the Canadian team. Over the last ten years or so, basketball has really taken off as a sport in the country, with more players being recruited out of high school to attend top tier NCAA schools in the U.S., and that’s served as a springboard for them to be drafted into the NBA.
Andrew Wiggins, who was drafted number one by the Cleveland Caviliers in the 2014 NBA draft (before subsequently being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves) is the highest profile member of the team assembled by GM Steve Nash and coach Jay Triano. But roughly two-thirds of the 12-player roster currently play in the NBA, while several others play professionally in Europe.
Still, the team is young, and had only a limited amount of practice time before heading to Mexico, where they’ve faced hostile crowds while playing eight games since the tournament began on Aug. 31.
Team Canada got off to a rocky start, losing 94-87 to Venezuela on the strength of 35 points for 35-year old NBA veteran Luis Scola. Since then, though, they’ve been on a roll, scoring victories over Cuba (101-59), Venezuela (82-62), Puerto Rico (112-92), Panama (103-66), Uruguay (109-82), home town Mexico (94-73) and Dominican Republic (120-103).
Canada’s 7W-1L record was good enough to give them first place in the tournament, and later today they’ll tip off against Venezuela in one of two semi-finals. Mexico and Argentina will play in the other semi-final, with the winners meeting in the final on Saturday. But with two Olympic qualifying berths at stake, a win later today would assure Canada of a spot in the Olympics for the first time since 2000.
With plenty of players in their early to mid-20s, Team Canada, should they qualify for the Olympics, promises to be even stronger next summer. In this tournament, they’ve struggled at times, but have had a balanced attack and reasonable depth off the bench. In the Dominican Republic game, for instance, seven players hit double figures in points.
You can find out more about Team Canada and the tournament on the FIBA Americas website.