Carl English on Team Canada: ‘They all want to play, don’t get it twisted’

Carl English playing for Team Canada at the 2015 Pan Am Games (Chris Young/CP)

It’s been just under three months since Canada’s disappointing 2019 FIBA World Cup showing stumbled to its conclusion — an 82-76 loss to Germany that left the red and white with a 2-3 record in the tournament.

It was a poignant final nail in the coffin for Canada’s high hopes for the tournament, which slowly unravelled in the lead-up as key name after key name was scratched off the roster.

Optimism has returned in the form of June’s Olympic qualifying tournament in Victoria, B.C., which has drawn a string of participation commitments from the golden generation’s best, highlighted by Jamal Murray. But while fans sit and wonder what has suddenly prompted the country’s biggest names to show up for the national squad, one of the program’s former mainstays says everyone needs to better understand the players’ perspective.

“It’s not an easy decision,” Carl English told Ben Ennis and JD Bunkis on the Good Show Monday, discussing the question of why Canadian NBAers have opted not to play for the national team in recent years.

“You know, it’s a decision that factors in so many different things. So let me be perfectly clear when I say, everybody — unless coming up through (the program) had a bad experience — everybody, including poor (Andrew) Wiggins who gets crucified, everybody wants to play for their country.

“They all want to play, don’t get it twisted. But then you weigh out the positives and negatives.” 

Far more goes into the decision of whether or not to suit up than simply the pride of donning the maple leaf, English explained, and the weight of those stakes are rarely considered by those watching from afar.

“The big one that comes into play is obviously the (injury insurance),” English said. “And everybody’s different — I would even go as far as saying you might have a better chance of getting the superstars, because they’re taken care of. They’re covered by their team. They should be covered by NBA insurance. It’s the guys that are fighting to get into rotation — if they get injured, well it’s a major setback.

“They could lose their contract, or they could get cut from the team. Or the guys that are on these two-way contracts, or the guys that are fighting, they’re trying to crack into the starting lineup and they’re right there. … There’s a lot of pressure.”

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English, who has been part of the Canadian national program since 2000, said more attention needs to be given to the specific situations each player is in, and how that affects their decision to participate, rather than simply reacting to the decision.

“We all want them to play for our own selfish reasons, because we all truly believe that they will achieve a medal if every one of these guys commits to Team Canada,” said the St. John’s, N.L., native said.

“…The issue (is) we all get offended or we all get upset when they don’t come out, and we don’t understand that they’re their own personal reasons, and each person has a different thing. Like Tristan (Thompson) this summer — if Tristan’s contract is not figured out, how can you expect that man to come play? It could be a contract negotiation, it could be — let’s say Denver goes deep into the playoffs. Jamal wants to play, he publicly announced it. Jamal’s a great guy. Of course, he wants to play for Team Canada.

“But let’s say Jamal goes into (late June) and they make a deep run, you think Denver Nuggets are going to want him to play?”

It’s a complicated relationship, and one English has plenty of experience with himself. The 38-year-old was injured in 2012 while playing with Team Canada, but didn’t have his insurance covered at the time.

“I lost millions of dollars,” he said. “Is that a story? Yes, it should be. These are things that people don’t know.”

Listen to English’s full interview with Ennis and Bunkis via the audio player embedded in this post, where he also discusses his new book, ‘Chasing a Dream,’ memories from playing in Europe, and the rise of Canadian talent in the NBA.

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