It was a roller-coaster late summer for Jordi Fernández. After Nick Nurse abruptly departed as coach of Canada’s men’s national basketball team in late June, Fernández, a Sacramento Kings associate coach, was thrust into his role as successor at a pivotal point for the program.
With only one month to prepare for the FIBA World Cup, Fernández proceeded to take the team to new heights, qualifying for the Olympic games for the first time in 24 years and achieving a bronze medal for the country’s best-ever finish at the tournament.
Fernández reflected on the unlikely medal run in an interview on The Raptors Show with Will Lou.
“It happened very quick,” said Fernández about joining Team Canada. “I had experience in FIBA and experience with dealing with NBA guys, so I tried to do my best… We had to all figure it out on the fly.”
They eventually did figure it out and once Fernández had a grasp of what kind of team he had on his hands, the goal was obvious.
“When you come and play for Canada, we have this goal of making it to the Olympics and to also build this program back to where it’s supposed to be, to the top of the world rankings,” said Fernández about his expectations out of camp. “It was a very competitive group, that’s part of our identity and we showed it.”
After opening the tournament with a statement 30-point win over perennial medal-threat France, the hype for a podium finish allured Canadian basketball fans and players alike.
The run was not without adversity. After a clean sweep in the first phase, Canada needed one win in the group stage to qualify for a spot in Paris in 2024 for the Olympics.
The goal was clear: Beat a scrappy Brazil team or it’s do-or-die against perpetual superpower Spain. Canada was shocked by Brazil for their first loss of the tournament, pushing Olympic qualification one agonizing step further.
“Losing that game against Brazil, it made us regroup,” said Fernàndez on the result. “That’s the way you learn, especially when you’re that young.”
Two days later, in perhaps the most crucial game in the program’s history, Canada delivered by edging out Spain 88-85 to book their tickets to Paris 2024.
“Those are invaluable moments that you’ll never forget in your life,” the Spanish coach reflected. “The next goal was, can we get the best result ever?”
Team Canada ended up meeting Team USA in the bronze medal game after Fernández’s side dropped a close one to Serbia in the semifinal, but that didn’t slow the team’s ambitions.
“The guys said it before the game, ‘This is the last 40 minutes that we will play together this summer and we’re going to play 40 minutes together for a medal,'” Fernández recalled. “It’s a pretty cool way to finish what we started.”
The game ended up taking 45 minutes, as Canada secured the medal in overtime, their first in the FIBA World Cup’s history.