On Wednesday, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 26 points in his debut for the Oklahoma City Thunder, while rookie RJ Barrett had 21 in his first career game with the New York Knicks.
The pair are among the record-setting 16 Canadians on NBA rosters to start the 2019-20 season.
While Canada is fresh off a disappointing 21st placing (out of 32 teams) at last month’s basketball World Cup, with most of its NBA talent ducking out, Toronto Raptors and national senior team head coach Nick Nurse remains optimistic about the squad’s prospects for the Tokyo Games.
“Yeah, we got to play the pre-qualification Olympics in late June, and if we can win that tournament, we’re going to the Olympics and that’s what we’re aiming for,” he said in an appearance on Tim and Sid on Thursday.
Despite the lackluster attendance from NBAers at the tournament in China — Sacramento Kings guard Cory Joseph and Orlando Magic forward Khem Birch were the league’s sole representatives in red and white — Nurse is confident he can recruit the Canadian stars — such as Gilgeous-Alexander and Barrett — needed to carry the squad to the next level.
“Yeah, I do. I contact those guys a little bit here and there, and they’ve all been really responsive. It was just a weird year last year, timing-wise for guys. We saw a lot of countries were battling it,” said Nurse.
“I think it fits in a lot better this year with late June and July Olympics and … so it’s really, it’s really awesome (to see all the Canadians in the NBA).”
Nurse added that he spoke to the New Orleans Pelicans rookie and Toronto native Nickeil Alexander-Walker ahead of the Raptors’ season opener Tuesday, and the vibe around other Canadians seemed “really good.”
“Good talk with Nickeil and his folks — everybody seems positive, let’s just hope it stays that way and we get them to commit and get them to play. I think it’s a big deal for Canada, and spreading the game in the country right now,” said Nurse, who was impressed with the way the 17th pick in last summer’s NBA Draft played in the pre-season.
Regardless of Canada’s frustrating performance at the World Cup, Nurse called the opportunity a “great one” and it gave him perspective on how he will need to steer the ship.
“We needed to pull one of those (upsets) off and we didn’t quite do it. But I really enjoyed the whole thing. And now I got a really good view from 30,000 feet of how to take it forward. So that’s good.”