Team goes undefeated in Puerto Rico
Written by Jose Colorado for On Point Basketball
Add another chapter to Canada Basketball’s historical summer.
Following a best – ever silver medal finish at the Pan American Games a little over month ago, the men’s national team blitzed through the Tuto Marchand Continental Cup in Puerto Rico notching an undefeated 4-0 record en route to the program’s first championship at the competition.
The tournament win, while an unprecedented feat, should only serve as a historical footnote for the team in the grand scheme of things according to some basketball experts as the squad gears up for the Olympic qualifiers in Mexico City on August 31.
“It’s important for Canada as a team, 12-man roster, and coaching staff not to get ahead of themselves and I don’t think they will – I think they understand what’s at stake,” said Tariq Sbiet, founder of one of the leading Canadian basketball media outlets, North Pole Hoops.
What hangs in the balance in the coming weeks cannot be understated.
Canada is attempting to qualify for the Olympics for the first time in 15 years, with what Head Coach Jay Triano has called the “most talented Canadian team ever assembled,” all while fielding a squad with the most NBA players of any country in the upcoming FIBA America championships.
Failing to qualify in Mexico City would certainly appear as a big let-down for an emerging basketball nation gaining steam for over a month now.
“I think they won the games they were supposed to win, they’re the most talented team easily in this event, “said Sbiet on August 26 on On Point Radio and Podcast.
“With that being said there were a lot of different guys who stepped up.”
Andrew Wiggins, regarded as Canada’s basketball superstar-in-the-making, may be the first to come to mind.
He had a solid tournament averaging a team-high 14.5 points per game in just 25 minutes per contest, finishing fourth in scoring for the tournament.
The 20-year-old delivered on two memorial occasions: first by nailing a clutch baseline jumper to push Canada over its international rival Argentina 85 – 80 in its opening match, then by smashing a righthanded jam in the face of Dallas Mavericks point guard, Jose Barea, deflating the Puerto Rican faithful and ensuring Canada closed off the competition as champions.
Wiggins will surely be counted upon heavily as the team chugs along but others will need to keep up with the pace.
Anthony Bennett, the embattled former first overall pick, has done his part.
It’s been a renaissance summer for the power forward as he has now strung together a pair of solid international tournaments following his NBA struggles.
“He’s way more confident now,” said Sbiet of Bennett’s 12.7 point and 8.3 rebound tournament averages.
“He’s the Bennett we remember starring at Findlay Prep, UNLV – that guy is still there.
“He’s still a freak of an athlete and he can stroke the ball. ”
Meanwhile Dwight Powell, Philip Scrubb, and Brady Heslip all showed they could be depended upon for solid production and minutes.
Using the tournament as a barometer for Canada’s projected success in the qualifier – where all the countries are headed in a week’s time – remains somewhat murky however.
While Canada did roll with its A-list roster throughout the competition, Triano delegated the minutes rather liberely; and one player still must be cut before Mexico.
Argentina featured almost all of its roster for the FIBA Americas, including current Toronto Raptors player Luis Scola and former NBAer Andres Nocioni, although star guard Facundo Campazzo did not suit up – he’ll be back for the qualifier.
Puerto Rico added former seven-year NBA pro, Renaldo Balkman while Brazil and the Dominican Republic are said to have withheld a number of their A-listers, setting up a fierce battle in Rio.
“You take (the win) with a grain of salt,” said Sbiet when asked about the possibility of the other teams playing possum in the Cup.
“It’s important for these countries – and for the pride of these countries – to make it to the Olympics,” said Sbiet.
“It’s a much bigger stage and there’s a lot of ways to improve.. It’ll be interesting to see how the intensity levels change. “
Edited by Drew Ebanks