Canada is on the verge of clinching a spot in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 this week in Edmonton.
The Canadian men face Venezuela on Thursday (9:10 p.m. ET / 7:10 p.m. MT) and Panama on Sunday (7:10 p.m. ET / 5:10 p.m. MT). Both games will be held at the Edmonton Expo Centre and broadcast live on Sportsnet ONE and SN NOW.
Twelve teams are fighting for seven spots available from the Americas region for the World Cup taking place in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia Aug. 25-Sept. 10, 2023. The three best teams in each group and the best fourth-place team will move on to the World Cup.
Here is everything you need to know about the fifth window of the qualifying competition.
Canada remains undefeated, but relies on new faces
Canada is the only undefeated team, going 6-0 across the first three windows to move onto the second phase, and continuing its undefeated run in Group E.
However, Canada will face one of its toughest opponents yet in Venezuela, whcih suffered a single loss in the first phase and has gone 2-0 since moving to the second phase, sitting right behind Canada in the Group E standings.
A loss to Venezuela would put both Canada and Venezuela at 8-1 in the rankings, while Panama sits fifth in Group E with a 2-6 record, cumulative from both phases.
Canada has a point differential of plus-266 points, with Venezuela holding the next closest total at plus-135. However, Canada faces the challenge this window of being without many of the NBA talents who were available for their games in Hamilton, Ont. and Victoria.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander missed Canada’s last qualifier against Panama, but Dwight Powell and Kelly Olynyk were available and they were some of Canada’s top performers of the competition despite only appearing in three or four games.
Gilgeous-Alexander leads Canada in points per game averaging 26.3 along with 4.7 assists, while Olynyk is averaging 16.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.
Canada will now rely on Kenny Chery, who leads the team in assists averaging seven per game during the qualifiers, as well as AmeriCup breakout star Jahvon Henry-Blair, who averaged 13.8 points per game as Canada finished fourth in the competition.
How can Canada qualify?
Since Bahamas was unable to beat Argentina in the fourth window of the competition, Canada had to wait until the fifth window to book its ticket into the World Cup.
Now, one more win will solidify a spot for Canada as it would be the first nine-win team in the competition. Canada has yet to face 7-1 Venezuela in the competition, but met Panama in August and won by a convincing 106-50 margin.
Melvin Ejim, who has been a staple for Canada’s roster even with the NBA talent on the floor, scored 15 points in that match to go along with Olynyk’s 18-point performance.
Canada, 15th in the FIBA World Rankings, is averaging 102.5 points, 43.5 rebounds and 22.4 assists per game in the competition, all top-three in their respective categories.
Who is on Canada’s roster?
Guards: Trae Bell-Haynes (Buducnost VOLI, Montenegro), Aaron Best (Hamilton Honey Badgers), Kenny Chery (Petkim Spor, Turkey), Kassius Robertson (Scarborough Shooting Stars), Phil Scrubb (Monbus Obradoiro, Spain)
Forwards: Melvin Ejim (Unicaja, Spain), Thomas Kennedy (Vancouver Bandits), Conor Morgan (Slask Wroclaw, Poland), Jean-Victor Mukama (Scarborough Shooting Stars), Thomas Scrubb (Monbus Obradoiro, Spain), Kalif Young (Hamilton Honey Badgers)
Centres: Owen Klassen (EWE Baskets Oldenburg, Germany)
Other players to watch
Jhornan Zamora has played every game in every window for Venezuela, averaging 12.3 points per game and had three consecutive games scoring 15 or more points for Venezuela against Paraguay and Argentina.
Michael Carrera has also been a dual threat for Venezuela averaging 10.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, grabbing most of his boards on the defensive glass while also averaging a steal per game.
Panama’s record may not look as strong as their competition’s, but Ernesto Oglivie will be hard to stop as he is averaging 16 points, seven rebounds and 2.7 assists per game in the competition, in the top three for Panama in all categories.