Veteran Cory Joseph ‘mad’ about Canada Basketball snub, despite years of service

Canada's Cory Joseph at left competes with Lithuania's Mantas Kalnietis during a Group H match for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in Dongguan in south China's Guangdong province on Tuesday, Sep. 3, 2019. (AP)

From the moment Canadians began making it to the NBA in numbers, there was an awareness that the day might come where the men’s national team wouldn’t have room for them all, and a player good enough to have a meaningful career in the best basketball league in the world and who was ready and able to play for his country would be sidelined when Canada’s best took on the world.

As the men’s national team roster takes shape, with the list of training-camp invitees in advance of the 2024 Olympic tournament expected to be announced later this week — the moment has arrived with a thud.

When training camp opens on June 28th in Toronto, Cory Joseph — a 13-year veteran who was at the forefront of Canada’s NBA wave and a stalwart of the men’s program since making his senior team debut in 2011 — has been told he won’t be among those invited to compete for one of the 12 spots on the Olympic roster.

It was a blow.

“I took the honour of playing for your country very seriously and did it many times over the years,” Joseph, who got the news on Friday, said in an interview with Sportsnet. “This is not me complaining, I’m not a complainer. But there were times when I put FIBA basketball and playing for my country over my NBA situation at the time, whether I was in a contract year and I had no contract at the time and I went to go play for my country, whether I had little bumps and tweaks, I was there. Whether guys came or not, I always thought we still had a chance. For me it’s a little disheartening to be like, ‘Wow I wasn’t even given an opportunity to compete for whatever position?’ “

Joseph was one of the 14 players who signed on as part of the men’s team ‘Summer Core’ in 2022. The expectation was that the players who agreed to be available to train and compete in the World Cup qualifying process with an aim towards qualifying for the 2024 Olympics would be assured an opportunity to compete for a spot on the final roster this summer. 

Joseph had to pull himself out of consideration for the World Cup last summer due to a back problem and missed out on Canada’s bronze-medal finish as they earned their way into the 12-team Olympic field for the first time since 2000, and just the second time since 1988.

But he had every intention of competing for a spot this summer, understanding that, with the core of the bronze-medal team expected to return, it would be as a veteran voice at the bottom of the rotation, if he made the team at all.

Coming to camp and getting cut was a possibility, but Joseph was fine with that.

“That’s how basketball is,” he says. “I’ve never backed away from competition.”

The 29th pick in the 2011 NBA draft, Joseph has made a long career for himself as a role player, primarily as a utility guard capable of spot starting and always as a positive locker room presence. With Canada, Joseph was part of nearly a decade of close calls when it came to Olympic qualifying, a constant when the commitment of some of Canada’s other NBA players wavered.

Playing in the Olympics was forever the goal. Not having the opportunity to fight for a spot hurts.

“You start playing basketball, especially FIBA basketball, with [the Olympics] in mind,” he said. “That was the goal over the past 13 years with the men’s national team, but it hasn’t always worked out that way. We’ve had the ability to make it and either came up short or people, for whatever reason, weren’t able to make it.

“Now we’re in a different stage of Canadian basketball, led by Shai [Gilgeous-Alexander], who is an unbelievable character, once-in-a-lifetime talent and he’s kind of taken that lead and pushing Canadian basketball forward and is taking the baton from guys like myself and guys who came before me and running with it,” said Joseph. “That’s the most important thing. I don’t want to take away from that. I love all those guys, from Shai on down, I have major respect for Jordi [men’s national team head coach Jordi Fernandez], I think he’s a tremendous coach, a tremendous person. I want them to go out there and do well. I know what it will do for Canada Basketball, I know what it will do for kids growing up, playing basketball. I want them to win gold, all of that.

“[But] I had planned to go to camp, and when you’re talking about the [last three or four spots] on the roster, there’s a pool of talented guys you could put on the roster, [but] I don’t see, in that situation, where I wouldn’t at least be invited to camp to be one of those guys [to compete for a spot], so that’s where my disappointment is with the organization.”

The particulars of why Joseph won’t be in camp will remain a mystery for now. Men’s national team general manager Rowan Barrett was reached for comment but said only that he didn’t want to discuss any individual player’s situation until the training camp roster was finalized.

That Joseph is on the outside looking in indicates how competitive making the roster will likely be, especially at the guard and wing positions, where (among the NBA contingent) Canada is expected to have all of Gilgeous-Alexander, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, RJ Barrett and Lu Dort back from last summer, and expecting the addition of Jamal Murray, who was part of the ‘Summer Core’ but hasn’t played for the senior team since 2015.

It’s been a testing year for Joseph. He was signed this past off-season to provide bench depth in Golden State and earned high praise from head coach Steve Kerr. “Just incredibly professional, a leader, great advice from the bench when he’s not playing, solid play every time he goes on the court,” Kerr said in January when the Toronto Raptors were set to play the Warriors. “ … So, guys like that, they’re impossible not to like.”

But with the emergence of rookie Brandin Podziemski and second-year guard Lester Quinones, Joseph’s role was deemed surplus. He was traded by Golden State at the trade deadline in February in a move that saved the Warriors about $11 million in salary and luxury tax. The Pacers then waived Joseph to create a roster spot for James Johnson.

“In Golden State I was able to learn a lot being with Steve [Kerr] and Steph [Curry] and I really put in the time when I left there,” said Joseph. “ … when you have to wake up and go to the gym by yourself — I always loved the game — but you find another, deeper love. It was energizing, being in the gym every day, twice a day, working on my body, working on my mind, I feel great.”

Joseph was looking forward to an opportunity with the national team to test himself and signal that he was still in peak form.

“After I left Golden State I took the time; I was preparing like crazy. And to not get the opportunity to go and showcase, and at least be one of those guys with a lot of experience in FIBA and one of those guys that guys respect and speak up in the locker room, that’s really vital to a team, to not have a chance to go and showcase that is a big, huge disappointment man, it really is.”

Joseph can’t elaborate why he didn’t get the training camp invitation.

“I don’t want to get into all of that. It is what is, every man has to make their own decisions at the end of the day,” he said. “…I listened to it and obviously I’m mad about, and feel like I have a right to be mad about it, but it is what it is. I can’t remember the explanation they gave, to be honest with you.”

But Joseph is clearer than ever on one thing: his long NBA career is far from over, if he has any say in the matter. He’s confident he can play an important role in the league. Although his opportunities were limited in Golden State, he played some of his best basketball the previous two years in Detroit where he shot 40.1 per cent from three and had a 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio with the rebuilding Pistons.

“I’m only 32. My career is still young. Last year I got traded and waived for the first time, and I dealt with that. There’s two ways to go with that experience. You let it break you mentally and start blaming everybody, or you get better from it. For me, just finishing my 13th year, it’s not about the lows, it’s a learning process. I learned a lot from it and I have gotten better from it.

“I think I’m still very valuable as a guy who comes in and plays when he needs to play, compete defensively, run a team, low turnovers, come off the bench in spot minutes and make sure the ball is flowing and the team is cohesive and bring the young guys up, with no ego. In Golden State I was at every optional shootaround, working with all those guys. A lot of teams could use a guy like that.”

It’s a role he was ready to play for Canada too — but won’t have the chance this time around.

“I don’t want to take away from the fact that Canada Basketball is in a great place. This is not that. I love all those guys. I want them to do well. Quote that. I just think I should have been invited to camp at the very least, 100 per cent,” he said. “… Everyone who knows me through my 13 years and counting in the NBA and with Canada Basketball, everyone knows my character. I’m not here to ruffle feathers, I’m not with any of that. I just wanted to say it from my side. If I stay quiet on this one people might think: ‘CoJo didn’t want to be there’ and that’s not the case.”

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