Coach Leo Rautins said the decision to dump Sam Dalembert from the Canadian men’s national basketball team was unanimous among players and coaches and he refuted Dalembert’s claims that he had not put himself above the team.
"There’s 12 players on this team and everybody felt that (it was best), in unison in terms of the decision that was made, to not have Sam play," Rautins told Toronto radio station The Fan 590 Thursday.
Dalembert, who plays for the Philadelphia 76ers and was considered to be one of Canada’s best players, was dumped from the team prior to Wednesday’s 79-77 victory over Korea at the Olympic qualifying tournament in Athens, Greece.
At the time, Rautins suggested that Dalembert wasn’t committed to the team and that it was a problem that had been brewing since the team’s training camp in Toronto in June.
But Dalembert told a Toronto newspaper Thursday that he wasn’t a prima donna and that Rautins’s questioning of his commitment "hurt."
"I never tried to put myself higher than anybody else," Dalembert told the Toronto Sun. "I put my NBA career on hold to play for this country."
Dalembert was born in Haiti but grew up in Montreal and became a Canadian citizen last summer in order to be able to play for Canada’s team. Canada is 1-1 going into Friday’s game against Croatia and must finish at least third to qualify for the Olympics in Beijing.
Rautins, though, refuted Dalembert’s dedication.
"If you are not a prima donna than I guess you would attend every meeting on time," Rautins told The Fan. "You would participate in everything with your team. You’d eat with your team, you’d associate with your team if you weren’t a prima donna."
Rautins did leave the door open for Dalembert to return to the team should it qualify for the Olympics, but said Dalembert wouldn’t again play in the qualifying tournament.
"(Dalembert’s) status is up to Sam. As far as this tournament, it’s done. He has to make a decision; you’re either a part of this or you’re not.
This was a decision that was not easy to come by, but again, everyone involved here felt exactly the same way about it."