The Canadian players know. The coaches know it. All of Basketball Canada’s top brass know it too.
This moment, for this men’s basketball program, can’t be lost.
It’s been a long two decades since Steve Nash, Rowan Barrett and the rest of those Canadian players left the court at the Olympics in Australia after losing to France.
Now, with an unprecedented amount of talent in the NBA and on this Canadian roster going into a last-chance Olympic qualifier in Victoria, the time has to be now.
“We need to build a team that can play and perform together. It’s not about having 12 all-stars. It’s about making the best team,” Barrett, Basketball Canada’s general manager, said.
His son R.J. Barrett is part of a highly talented Canadian team, complete with eight NBA players.
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WATCH | North Courts breaks down Canada’s last-chance Olympic qualifier:
The group looks to capitalize on the program’s development.
“It would mean a lot to us and our country,” said team captain Cory Joseph. “Our country is thirsty for it. I’m thirty for it. It would mean a lot.”
Joseph has been part of talented Canadian teams before, only to experience heartbreak on the international stage.
On Monday, before the team’s final practice before starting the tournament against Greece on Tuesday, Joseph dismissed any suggestions that this team is the favourite going into the six-team event.
“In my mind we haven’t done anything yet. We have a talented group of players. We have to be a team out there,” he said. “We’ve had talented groups before. It’s a hell of a compliment but you have to go and put it all together.”
It’s a moment to create an even stronger basketball movement in this country.
‘It’s a golden age’
Head coach Nick Nurse, who led the Toronto Raptors to the NBA championship in 2019, set this country’s passion for basketball ablaze during that memorable run.
He was hired just 11 days after that first-ever title to take over the Canadian team.
Now he’s hoping to ignite that same spark within people across Canada by getting the team into the Olympics.
When Nurse addressed the media after the team’s first practice in Tampa Bay, Florida, he was asked about legacy.
“Legacy is a funny word to me. I see it as,” the coach paused for a second. “There’s so much talent and opportunity for growth. There’s so much opportunity to do something long-lasting and big.”
In his final address to the media before the team’s first game, Nurse talked about how important it’ll be to find chemistry fast, play as a team and play hard defensively.
“I’m happy with how the team came together in the end,” he said. “It’s pieced together well. There’s some committed, passionate guys. I think there’s a deep team here.”
So much of the conversation over these last couple of decades has always been about who wasn’t showing up on the roster for Canada. Again, there will be some who wonder why certain players aren’t on this roster.
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But this time Rowan Barrett and Nurse have made it clear how much they appreciate those who have shown up to wear the maple leaf and try to qualify the team for the Olympics.
“I want to start by honouring our players that are sacrificing to be here. And I don’t use that word lightly,” Barrett said after the first practice.
“Some have not seen their families for weeks, months, and some for more than a year.”
Nurse doubled down on Barrett’s praise for those who are putting in the time and work.
“I’m super appreciative of all the guys who are here,” he said. “It means everything that they’ve committed.”
Should the team qualify for Tokyo, they’ll be together for seven weeks with a stop in Hawaii after Victoria before going to the Olympics.
It’s a long haul, no doubt, but it’s also part of the process of forming a new DNA in the men’s basketball program.
“We’re all very excited about this opportunity. This is an opportunity that we all hold near and dear to our hearts,” said Dwight Powell.
Canada is drawn into a group with Greece and China. The other group includes Uruguay, Turkey and Czech Republic.
The top two teams advance to the semifinals with the championship game on Sunday.
“We have a hell of a task in front of us,” Joseph said.
“We don’t have one guy with a selfish bone in their body. There are no egos. We’re all in a certain point in our development as humans to be selfless and play hard.”