ANDREW WIGGINS TIES THE GAME! 🇨🇦- FIBA (@FIBA) July 3, 2021
We've got free basketball in Victoria! #FIBAOQT | @CanBball
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Stop me if you've heard this before: Canada's Senior Men's National Team failed to qualify for the Olympic Games.
It was all set up for Canada to break their Olympic drought. They were the host and favourites in a six-team Olympic Qualifying Tournament, and they fielded arguably their most talented team ever. But it was all for naught, as an overtime loss to the Czech Republic ended Canada's Olympic dream once again and left many with more questions than answers.
With the Olympic Qualifying Tournament clearly in the rearview mirror, here are some of my thoughts and next steps in Canada's quest for an Olympic bid.
Let's start with the good. Andrew Wiggins suited up for Team Canada for the first time since 2015, and he delivered. Wiggins led the way for Canada in Victoria, averaging 21.7 points per game while shooting an efficient 55.0 percent from the field. When Canada needed a bucket, Wiggins' number got called and he came through.
He cemented himself as Canada's go-to player. On the court, he was fantastic. Off the court, he stepped up as well. He was early to commit to the team and after the heartbreaking loss, he said all the right things publicly.
He was saying all the right things behind closed doors as well. According to sources, Wiggins made it clear that he didn't want to have to qualify for the Olympics in the last chance tournament again. Those who heard from him felt that he was making it clear that he would be back in a National Team jersey and that it would be sooner rather than later.
Whether that happens remains to be seen, but from my perspective, Wiggins' presence and performance should give Canadian basketball fans hope that he'll be back and ready to get the team to the next level.
Another positive was seeing RJ Barrett in a major tournament at the Senior level. Barrett's performance on the court spoke for itself and at his age, it's encouraging to know that that's the floor. He's also the perfect player to play alongside Wiggins.
Barrett is a fiery competitor who isn't satisfied with just beating his opponents - he wants to crush them. His level of intensity on every possession doesn't always get seen on the cameras. It's eating him alive that Canada lost the way they did, and he'll be back to try and make sure it doesn't happen in the future.
Wiggins and Barrett have only ever played three games together and by the end of the third, they were close to figuring out how to best do it. More time together can only help them jell and be ready to perform next time around.
Having Nick Nurse as the team's head coach really helped them come together quicker than they might have with another coach at the helm. The group respected Nurse and it came through at every practice, during every timeout and in-game adjustment.
Whether Nurse comes back for another full Olympic cycle remains to be seen. He was non-committal after the loss to the Czech Republic and behind the scenes, I never really got a sense of which way he was leaning. I will say this, he seemed to enjoy coaching the team. He seemed to enjoy coaching with his staff and working with Canada Basketball as a whole. He also seems genuinely interested in getting Canada over the hump as he did with the Raptors.
However, coaching for a National team is extremely time-consuming. We know that Nurse loves to coach and I'm sure he'd love to add an Olympic medal to his resume, but there's a three-year wait to even have the chance to do so. And to get there, he'll likely have to coach over the next two summers. I don't expect him to know anytime soon whether he wants to make that type of commitment. It's a tough decision to make, giving up the little offseason time, family time and mental reset time you have - or go for glory, attempt to win a medal at an Olympic Games - it's a really tough choice.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker had himself a tournament. He found the perfect role coming off the bench for the team, and while it was Wiggins who got a ton of credit for coming up big down the stretch of the game against the Czech Republic, let's not forget that it was NAW who stole the ball and gave Wiggins a chance at the tying triple to send it to overtime. Alexander-Walker will be around in a Canada jersey for years to come and in his first outing for the Senior National Team, he acquitted himself very well.
Up next for Canada is preparing for the next Olympic cycle which begins in November. Yes, you read that right - November. Canada will begin their qualification process for the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Seven teams from the Americas region will make it to the World Cup. From there, two from the Americas region guarantee a spot at the 2024 Olympics in Paris, France.
To avoid the last chance tournaments, Canada must start taking the World Cup seriously. The team that was in Victoria was solid, but with Jamal Murray, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Dillon Brooks, Kelly Olynyk and Tristan Thompson among those who weren't there, it could be even better in 2023. Plus, Canada has a pretty talented group at the Under-19 World Championships right now that could produce some future Senior Team members.
Canada should be disappointed that they didn't qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Games, especially with the talent the country has. There can always be excuses as to why that isn't the case, and we've heard them all at this point.
But there's no more time for excuses. It's time for results.