Before World Cup, Canada Basketball says it has unfinished business

Michael Grange reacts to Canada basketball’s dominant victory in Brazil to book their 2019 World Cup ticket, says it’s a huge moment, and there’s no reason they can’t field a team as talented as everyone else other than U.S.

TORONTO – Despite having recently qualifying for the 2019 FIBA World Cup, the Canadian men’s national basketball team isn’t looking too far ahead to next summer’s tournament.

There’s still plenty of unfinished business to attend to first.

“We’re not in a position to be beating our chest,” explained Rowan Barrett, the general manager of Canada’s men’s program, said. “We’re now in a position where we are qualified, but we’re still building our culture.”

Speaking to Sportsnet over the telephone a day after Canada’s men’s basketball team defeated Brazil in a 94-67 romp at the Americas region qualifiers to book its ticket to next year’s World Cup in China, Barrett said making the big tournament was just one of Canada Basketball’s goals entering the 12-team, round robin tournament.

But despite having qualified for the big tournament next summer, due to FIBA’s new, protracted qualifying period, Team Canada will still be playing games in its Group F pool in St. John’s, N.L. in February, where they will take on Chile and Venezuela. Currently sitting with an 8-2 record, Canada sits in second place to Venezuela, but closing out the pool on top is important to Barrett.

“We’re still building who we are and finding who we are to ourselves and to the world, and a part of that is winning in this pool,” said Barrett. “A part of that is following through. That was one of our goals. We wanted to win this whole thing. So we’re still in the hunt to do that. So now we’ve gotta continue to push, continue to grind.”

In the grand scheme of things, of course, this doesn’t matter much, but it seems important enough to Barrett, especially because of who will likely be representing Canada in the February games compared to his potential World Cup roster.

The vast majority of players in Brazil that helped qualify Canada for the World Cup most likely won’t be representing Canada in China. A team made up of mostly former U Sport athletes and one former NBA player (Joel Anthony) held a brief training camp in Orlando and then overcame travelling for a combined 43 hours between games to earn Canada its first World Cup berth since 2010.

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In total, 35 different players from all levels of basketball – the aforementioned U Sport, NCAA, G League, Europe, high school and the NBA – suited up for Team Canada at some point during the qualifying period to help make Monday’s clinch happen.

When FIBA’s new qualification format for the World Cup began in November of last year, there was much trepidation over how it would impact Canada as the schedule meant the country’s NBA players wouldn’t be present for most of it. As it turned out however, it has showcased the depth of hoops talent Canada possesses.

“I did think there was a moment there that some of our players were thinking, ‘If I’m not in the NBA I’m never going to get to play for Canada,’” said Barrett. “So I think it’s provided a greater opportunity for a larger part of our pool – 35 players have played so far – to represent our country and I always think that that’s a good thing.”

To this point, Phil Scrubb, one of the players in Brazil whose 15 points helped spur Canada onto that 27-point rout over Brazil, told Sportsnet before the qualifiers that he was happy for the opportunity he and others had been getting to play for Canada.

“I think we’ve got a lot of good pros in Europe that we can choose from,” said Scrubb, who plays professionally for Russian club Zenit Saint Petersburg. “So I think we have a lot of guys who are on Canada Basketball’s radar, but because we have so many other talented players they wouldn’t have got a shot, and now they just have more opportunity to represent their country.”

With the games in St. John’s taking place in February in the midst of the NBA and NCAA basketball seasons, Canada’s depth will be relied upon again to accomplish its goal.

The World Cup, on the other hand, will be a different story.

Taking place from Aug. 31 to Sept. 15, it’s possible Canada could field an roster comprised entirely of NBA players. Not wanting to look too far ahead because of the many variables at play – injuries, life events, performance – Barrett was elusive on the topic of Canada’s possible roster.

He does, however, think that with Canada having qualified as early as they have, it should only help him recruit and put together the best team possible.

“There’s a ton of factors that are there, but I definitely think that qualifying at this early time really helps,” Barrett said. “It really helps to put a placeholder in the minds of the athletes, their agents, all the corporations, the people who are working around and all of these different things that can impede or get in the way.

“I think people are going to start thinking about and manage that now way before we get to 2019. So I think qualifying earlier definitely will help us.”

It certainly can’t hurt, and getting a head start on such an important task should only be a boon for the program as it takes steps towards its ultimate goal.

“We’ve qualified now and this is great. Now we’ve gotta get onto the world stage and now we’ve gotta go for the podium.”

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