If you’re a basketball fan in this country, it’s pretty hard to not be excited right now.
Over the last couple days, the Canadian Men’s Senior National Team (Team Canada from here on out) has notched consecutive wins over Argentina (85-80) and Brazil (80-64) to begin play at the Tuto Marchand Cup in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the precursor to this year’s FIBA Americas Championship, which kicks off on August 31.
While there are no real stakes in this competition, Team Canada and those tracking the squad’s play have to be pleased with what has transpired thus far. As expected, the depth of his unit has been a major story, as they were able to defeat Brazil Monday afternoon despite missing Kelly Olynyk and several other key contributors having off nights, including Andrew Wiggins, who went 2-for-10 from the field and finished with nine points.
Anthony Bennett, the much-maligned former first-overall selection who has struggled in consecutive NBA seasons with Cleveland and Minnesota, led the way offensively, dropping 16 against Brazil after posting a double-double in Sunday’s game against Argentina. The other three players in double figures for Team Canada on Monday – Dwight Powell, Brady Heslip and Phil Scrubb – all came off the bench.
This is the group that will hit the court next week in hopes of securing a place in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and even though these results don’t have any impact on that competition, Team Canada’s play thus far most likely will.
Great teams find ways to win even when its stars struggle, which is what the Canadian side did on Monday. They’re getting time to come together as a team – to establish a rotation, find defined roles and finding their identity on the floor together, something that should be easier given that several of the young NBA talents on the team played together on their way up the ranks.
Though this squad is exceptionally young – 29-year-old Aaron Doornekamp is the elder statesman of the group, which has an average age of 23 and some change – but boasts the most depth and a very talented core of NBA contributors that appears ready to take the next step. There are six first-round picks on this team and while they’re definitely young, this team might fit the old sports adage about being too young to know they’re not supposed to win the whole thing.
There are no juggernauts in the FIBA Americas Championship field. There are a few veteran squads that have been playing together internationally for years, but it’s not like the United States is in the field ready to wreck shop. A missing piece here, an injury there and who knows how things play out.
Right now, Team Canada is showing it can not only hang with the teams they’ll play for a place at the next Olympics, but that they can beat them, even when their stars have an off night.
That’s a massive confidence booster heading into the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship and something that should get hoops heads in this country excited if they’re not already.