Though it’s true that a Canadian invented the sport, Canada, as a country, hasn’t really begun to excel at it until these last 20-25 years or so.
This is evidenced by the fact, between both the men’s and women’s programs, Canada only has one medal (a silver won by the men’s team in 1936) in its Olympic history.
That could change during these Tokyo Games, though.
While the men’s program once again failed to reach the Olympics, going down in heartbreak to the Czech Republic and their Olympic flagbearer Tomas Satoransky in the semifinal of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament near the beginning of July, the women's team has become a powerhouse, rising to No. 4 in the world rankings and getting set to begin its third consecutive Olympic campaign on Monday at 4:20 a.m. ET against Serbia.
The last two Olympics saw Canada finish eighth and seventh place, respectively, but this go-around, things are different and the team expects much greater things for itself, and is actively looking to become just the second Canadian basketball squad to medal at the Olympic Games.
Before you prepare to watch this team, here’s an FAQ that will hopefully answer the major questions you might have about this team before it kicks things off on Monday.
How did Canada reach the Olympics?
Unlike the pain and heartbreak the men’s team has experienced during the qualification process, the women’s team had a relatively easy ride to Tokyo.
The squad qualified for the Games way back in February of 2020 when it won its Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Ostend, Belgium.
Before that, however, Canada had to jump through hoops, and did so by finishing first in its group during the 2019 FIBA Women’s AmeriCup to advance to the Olympic Qualifying Tournament to begin with, where the team locked in and got the job done, even managing to defeat the host Belgium team to take first place in the OQT.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, of course, this team has been delayed in showing what it can do, but on Monday the long wait will finally be over where it’ll hopefully be able to demonstrate some of the world-class form that has shot the program to No. 4 in the world and made such light work of the qualification process.
Who is playing for Team Canada?
Here’s Team Canada’s roster:
— Canada Basketball (@CanBball) June 30, 2021
When the roster was first announced, I took a closer look at what some of the team’s strengths and weaknesses might be here.
Not much has changed since then, apart from two major exceptions.
For one, after suffering an MCL sprain in her right knee that saw her miss the last 10 games with her WNBA team, Minnesota Lynx, star forward Natalie Achonwa is reportedly expected to be able to play for Team Canada after managing to recover in time, following a rehab program devised by Lynx head athletic trainer Chuck Barta and Canada Basketball’s medical staff, according to Kent Youngblood of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
This is tremendous news for Canada as Achonwa is certainly one of the team’s best players and will help the team’s medal hunt immensely.
As well, the other major change for Team Canada since the roster was first announced was the equally great news that veteran Kim Gaucher will be able to participate, too, winning a battle with the Japanese Olympic Committee to allow her to bring her newborn daughter, Sophie, with her to the Games.
This was not only a big win for Team Canada because of all the veteran leadership Gaucher brings – not to mention her useful marksmanship from deep – but it was a win for women’s sport, in general, as it set a precedent now to allow athletes who are nursing an infant to still be allowed to pursue their athletic goals.
So you can say that this Canadian women’s team was able to pick up a major victory before they even arrived in Tokyo.
What is Canada’s schedule?
Here’s a look at Canada’s preliminary schedule:
• Canada vs. Serbia – July 26 at 4:20 a.m. ET
• Canada vs. South Korea – July 28 at 9:00 p.m. ET
• Canada vs. Spain – July 31 at 9:00 p.m. ET
These three teams that Canada will play during the preliminary stage of the Olympic tournament. These four make up Group A of the tournament, with eight other teams making up Groups B and C.
After the round-robin phase, depending on where Canada finishes in the group one of four things will happen.
First of all, if Canada finishes within the top two of its four-team group it’ll earn an automatic berth into the quarterfinals.
If Canada finishes third in the group, however, it’ll fall into a special third-place ranking where the amount of group points it will be racking up in its group and other factors like point differential will factor into determining whether it’s one of the top two of the three third-place teams, as you can see visualized below from Wikipedia, to earn a quarterfinals berth that way.
Lastly, if Canada finishes bottom of its group, it will be eliminated from the tournament.
The quarterfinals begin Aug. 4 with the semifinals on Aug. 6, the bronze-medal game on Aug. 7 and gold-medal game on Aug. 8.
What should we expect from this Canadian squad?
As mentioned off the top, this Canadian team has very high expectations of itself and has said many times that it expects to finish on the podium at these Olympic Games.
As the No. 4-ranked program in the world, as ambitious as that sounds, this is a very realistic goal because of the amount of talent this Canadian squad features.
Outside of the United States, you’re not likely to a find a more talented team at the Olympics than Canada.
Blessed with WNBA talent, veterans who have been through the battles and exciting young blood, this is a team that should be able to medal.
Star power such as seen from the likes of WNBA players Kia Nurse, Bridget Carleton and Achonwa should give this team the scoring punch it needs, and that combined from the strong interior defence that’s become this team’s calling card from players like Kayla Alexander, Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe and Ayim will make this a very tough team to beat.
As well, talented youngsters like Laeticia Amihere and Aaliyah Edwards could prove to be x-factors for Canada as their athleticism, length and skill have the potential to make them absolute terrors for opposing teams on both ends of the floor.
So while the big talk from this Canadian team may seem a little worrisome at first, try to embrace it still, this team isn’t just talking a big game, it has big game.
What are Canada’s biggest challenges?
Of course, this is the Olympics and reaching the podium won’t be a walk in the park.
Based off of FIBA Rankings, Canada’s in a really tough group to kick off the tournament.
Spain is the No. 3 ranked team in the world, Serbia is No. 8 and South Korea is No. 19.
Remember that the top two teams in the group will reach the knockout phase of the tournament with the No. 3 team going through a more convoluted path that depends on how other third-place sides fared in their groups.
Essentially, from Canada’s perspective, it’ll want to finish the top two so it can be in control of its own destiny, and that’s a lot easier said than done.
A key battle Canada’s likely to be in for at least second in the group will probably be with Serbia, which also happens to be the team’s first game of the tournament.
This is far from an ideal situation because this Canadian team hasn’t been with each other for a long time as the last time it was at full strength was before the pandemic. And while it’s true this team has been able to spend some time training with one another for the past few weeks here, to go from scrimmages getting familiarized with one another again straight into a linchpin game is pretty nerve-racking.
With that said, however, if Canada is able to get past Serbia immediately and is then able to take care of business against South Korea in its second game, that should be enough to finish at least top two and save some big nerves against Spain in its third game.
So, basically, if Canada can do itself a favour and win its first two games, a lot of pressure will be relieved to at least reach the quarterfinals.
The knockout phase, of course, is a volatile situation, but that’s the case for every team in that situation. Canada just needs to make it past the group phase and then rely on its skill and a little luck to make it through the gauntlet that is a one-and-done tournament.
It’s certainly a tall task, but Canada can get the job done.