FIBA Men's Olympic Qualifying FAQ: Will we see Canada in Tokyo?

Canada's R.J. Barrett in action against the Dominican Republic during their FIBA Basketball World Cup Qualifier game in Toronto Friday June 29, 2018. (Mark Blinch/CP)

Canada’s 12-man roster for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Victoria, B.C., is set and no matter how you feel about the roster, it is what it is, and there’s no point anymore in crying over what could’ve been.

Now all that matters is accomplishing the task at hand: Winning the tournament and qualifying for the Olympics.

Canada will begin its tournament Tuesday against Greece at 4:05 p.m. PT in what could be the team’s most important game of the qualifiers, at least until the knockout round.

Don’t understand what we mean by that or anything else in regards to this tournament and what’s at stake for Canada? Have no fear, here’s an FAQ that will hopefully answer some of the big questions you might have.

What is the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament?

After the 2019 FIBA World Cup -- the main way to Olympic qualification -- there were four spots left open and up for grabs.

These four spots will be filled by the winners of each of the four separate Olympic Qualifying Tournaments.

Along with the tournament in Victoria, there’s three more also happening in Split, Croatia, Kaunas, Lithuania and Belgrade, Serbia.

Each of these tournaments features six countries in each of them, meaning that 24 countries in total are competing for just four more Olympic berths.

And when we say there are only four more Olympic berths, we mean it.

The Olympic Qualifying Tournament is a harsh event because the only way to reach the Games is by winning the whole thing.

So, in the context of Team Canada, the most important thing you have to know and remember is if Canada wins the tournament in Victoria, they’ll make the Olympics. Anything less than that will be yet another Games without the country’s men’s national team competing.

Who is playing for Team Canada?

In case you’re unaware, here’s a look at Canada’s roster:

This is a roster that’s composed of eight NBA players, two more with NBA experience and two others with valuable international experience playing in Europe.

Is this the absolute strongest roster Canada could theoretically roll with? No, but that roster you might be thinking of is probably only possible in your dreams.

Between contract situations, injuries and just real life getting in the way, the ideal, perfect roster will likely only be possible in a work of good fiction.

But even if this Team Canada roster isn’t the supposedly best one ever, there’s certainly an argument to be made that this is still the most talented squad ever assembled.

Eight players from the world’s greatest basketball league -- three being regular starters -- is nothing to sneeze at and is an obvious advantage over the other teams Canada will see in the tournament.

What is Canada’s schedule?

And while on the topic of other teams Canada will see, here’s a quick glance at their schedule:

• June 29 - Canada vs. Greece at 4:05 p.m. PT
• June 30 - Canada vs. China at 4:05 p.m. PT

As you may have noticed, that isn’t exactly a very robust schedule, but that’s because Greece and China are the only teams in Canada’s Group A.

In Group B, there’s Uruguay, the Czech Republic and Turkey.

The way the group stage works is the top two teams from each group advance to the knockout round, which begins on July 3.

According to FIBA World Rankings, here’s a general look at the relative strength of each of the six teams in Victoria:

• Greece (No. 6)
• Czech Republic (No. 12)
• Turkey (No. 15)
• Canada (No. 21)
• China (No. 29)
• Uruguay (No. 45)

These rankings, of course, aren’t an exact indication of the strength of each nation, but gives a good indication of who the main competitors Canada will be seeing are.

Additionally, this is why Canada’s opening game against Greece is so important. Beating the most accomplished team in the tournament from the offset would go a long way. It wouldn't just help secure first place in the group -- something that’s advantageous in its own right as the first-place team from Group A will see the Group B runner-up in the semifinals -- but could also allow Canada to grab some important momentum moving forward.

What’s at stake for Canada?

Besides the obvious of a berth in the Tokyo Olympics this summer, the reputation of the men’s basketball program will be put on the line once again.

Canada’s men’s team hasn’t played in an Olympic Games since Steve Nash helped guide them there in 2000, and despite this being considered a golden generation of Canadian hoops with more Canadian NBA talent than ever before, for a multitude of reasons, this is a program that has continually disappointed.

This is in stark contrast to the women’s program which has flourished and has shot up to the No. 4-ranked team in the world and a favourite to medal in Tokyo.

The frustrations the men’s team has experienced hasn’t been for a lack of trying to turn things around, though.

This is a program that’s brought on former national team members -- like Nash and Rowan Barrett -- from the last time it made the Olympics and even a respected basketball executive in Glen Grunwald to head Canada Basketball to help it reach its goals.

Additionally, making the bid to host the OQT in Victoria in the first place was a calculated move by Canada Basketball to try to get some home cooking to try to qualify. Even though we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, the organizing committee managed to allow 10 per cent of the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre's capacity into the building.

As well, Canada Basketball spent money to bring the actual court that the Toronto Raptors clinched their 2019 NBA championship on as an extra measure of luck to bring to Team Canada.

It’s a win-or-go-home tournament, for sure, but for Canada, it also feels like so much more.

The effort and importance put on making the games for the first time in 21 years feels tangible.

What are Canada’s biggest obstacles during the tournament?

As is always the case in a major international tournament, there will be challenges along the way, but for Canada it feels like there are more obstacles.

First off, as great as their NBA talent is, that also means these are players without a lot of experience playing the FIBA game. A far more physical brand of basketball than the NBA, there’s only so much Canada head coach Nick Nurse and his staff can do to simulate the kind of beating some of these players will be in for in practice.

And that brings us to the next problem, Canada wasn’t afforded a chance to play exhibition games against other teams in advance of the tournament. Sure, the quality of scrimmages were probably very high at Team Canada practices, but, again, a scrimmage isn’t a real game, and to go from just scrimmaging to key games immediately could prove to be dangerous.

That's because this is a team that hasn’t had much of a chance to build chemistry with each other as a two-week training camp isn’t a ton of time -- especially compared to other teams like Greece, Turkey and the Czech Republic with far more experienced players both in terms of playing together and in the FIBA game.

And on the topic of some of those three tough teams Canada could see in the tournament -- Greece, Turkey, Czech Republic -- the major apparent weakness that Canada has up front with its bigs could be exposed by some of the bigs seen on these other teams like former NBA lottery pick Georgios Papagiannis of Greece, the Czech Republic’s Jan Vesely -- another former NBA lottery pick -- and the giants seen all across the Turkish team, including Ersan Ilyasova who last played with the Utah Jazz this season.

Canadian players Dwight Powell, Trey Lyles and Andrew Nicholson are probably Canada’s only true bigs and will have their work cut out for them against some of the behemoths they’ll see in the tournament, particularly because FIBA rules -- a more physical game, no defensive three-second rule -- allow big men to play more like the bigs you saw in the 1980s and 1990s of the NBA.

In order to counter this, Nurse and his staff will probably have to play small with players like Aaron Doornekamp and Anthony Bennett playing some four with, perhaps, Nicholson at centre to allow for maximum floor spacing.

An idea like that would probably be Canada’s best bet as it'll likely want to use its skill to win rather than get involved in a war of attrition with these bigger and stronger teams.

What are Canada’s chances to win and qualify for the Olympics?

Lastly, as grim a picture we just painted there for Canada, this is still a squad that should be expected to win the tournament and reach the Olympics.

As mentioned before, this is probably the most talented roster the program has ever assembled, and, as much as strategy plays a big role, in basketball, generally speaking, talent wins out.

Yes, Greece, the Czech Republic and Turkey are all formidable foes, but you can’t say they’re as talented as Canada is.

So have faith, Canadian hoops heads. This team is good enough to get the job done.

All it comes down to now is execution.

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