Written by Jose Colorado for On Point Basketball
Canada basketball has already put together the greatest summer the women’s program has ever seen, with the biggest event yet to even come – the Olympic qualifiers.
Following gold medal performances at the Pan American Games and the U16 FIBA Americas, and a silver medal at the FISU Games (university national development level) – all best-ever finishes in their respective age groups – the program now eyes a potential berth in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil via the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifier in Edmonton on August 9 – 16.
And while Canada basketball recognized the merit in winning internationally at all levels, ultimately they know the senior team is where the most impact will be made long-term.
“The opportunity to able to simulate playing in front of home crowds (at the Pan Ams) was amazing in preparation for the (Olympic qualifiers) that’s ahead which is the most important task of this summer and this quadrennial, actually,” said Denise Dignard, Director of Women’s High Performance for Canada Basketball.
Following the initial qualifiers in each respective continent, the top-placing teams that have failed to advance reassemble just before the Olympics into a ‘second-chance’ qualifier tournament.
Canada just squeaked into the 2012 London Olympics through this route by beating Japan in the final game.
It resulted in a hasty turnaround, a rushed training camp, and a fatigued squad – something Head Coach Lisa Thomaidis wants to avoid.
“The preferred method is to be able to do it a year out, in terms of your preparation, your scheduling,” Thomaidis said to Lori Ewing of the Canadian Press.
“But also for this team and this program, and the exposure that we would get having a full year ahead of the Olympics. Knowing that this team is going (to Rio) would be huge.”
The odds would certainly appear to favour Canada this time around.
The powerful Americans aren’t playing because they’re already through by way of their 2014 World Championship victory, while Brazil, slotted seventh in the world – the highest rank in the tournament, is already headed to the Olympics as hosts.
That means Canada needs to either finish either first or second to Brazil to qualify. And with other considerations like the fact the tournament is being held at the Saville Centre – the home training base of the women’s team – and on the heels of a captivating undefeated gold medal run at the Pan Am games – against much of the same competition, it appears as though many fans are optimistic in the home team’s chances according to Dignard.
“It was an historic moment for our program. (It) certainly put a lot of wind in people’s sails,” Dignard said when appearing on On Point Basketball’s Sirius XM radio show recently.
Canada starts play against Puerto Rico on August 9th then face Chile, the Dominican Republic and Cuba in successive days.
Cuba provided Canada with perhaps its toughest test at the Pan Am Games, with the Canadians prevailing 71-68, and figure to be Canada’s toughest challenger with lead guard Ineidis Casanova and post Clenia Noblet providing a dynamic one-two punch.
Although Argentina, who is in Group B, with Brazil, Ecuador, and the Virgin Islands, lost to Canada 73-58 at the Pan Ams, they played the home squad tough resulting in a score that wasn’t nearly as indicative of the game’s outcome.
Yet, with all things considered, Canada still appears to be a favourite.
And in a summer that has been rivalled by no others in its program’s history, the organization couldn’t be more excited for the opportunity at hand.
“It would be huge,” said Dignard. “It would really be a dream come true to be able to do it back-to-back and in our own country.”
The tournament opener between Canada ad Puerto Rico airs at 8 p.m ET on TSN1 and TSN5.
Written by Jose Colorado
Photos courtesy of Reel Motion Imaging
Edited by Drew Ebanks