With the NBA season just getting underway, we asked TSN hoops experts Jack Armstrong, Josh Lewenberg and Duane Watson a few burning questions about the year ahead. Today we asked: with so many new Canadian players entering the NBA and Andrew Wiggins on the way, where is Canada as a basketball nation and what are the next steps for the National team?
Jack's take: It is really cool to watch the emergence of the sport of Basketball across Canada.
I've seen it happen on two different levels over the past 25+ years, first as an NCAA Division 1 Coach at Niagara for 10 Years and then for the past 15+ as a broadcaster in Canada.
The Best is yet to come.
The exposure to the sport is top-shelf and kids are getting better instruction and coaching than they've ever had. The key will be the loyalty of the Canadian players to play for their country and succeed at the international level. There are lots of expectations now and with that comes the pressure.
A strong fundamental base and demands on playing the game as a team will be paramount. There are Lots of talented young players emerging on the scene at the same time which is great yet a concern as well. These guys need to know how to sacrifice for the greater good and not allow the narrow-minded selfishness of youth to overtake what's good for the team. Who will be the winning veteran examples for them? Talent only gets you so far.
Team play, toughness, role definition, maturity, selflessness and smarts will be the factors that have to become more and more evident each day. The potential is there -- now there must be a willingness to lay it all on the line and represent your nation with no strings attached and do it the right way for the right reasons. I'm fascinated to see how it will all work out.
Watson's take: The talent has already established itself, now it's a matter of nurturing and developing it. Canada is a top five basketball country in terms of talent, however the men's global ranking at 25th in the world, by FIBA isn't far off.
They haven't been able to compete and win as a country, failing to qualify for the World Cup at the FIBA Americas this summer. Not to say they won't, but this "golden era" exists more on the NBA court than the international one. Excluding the US, Canada boasts the second most players in the league after France. With the season tipping off on Tuesday night, Cory Joseph (Spurs), Kelly Olynyk (Celtics), Joel Anthony (Heat), Tristan Thompson (Cavaliers), Steve Nash (Lakers), Robert Sacre (Lakers), Andrew Nicholson (Magic), and No. 1 draft pick Anthony Bennett (Cavaliers) were all on NBA rosters. That's an unprecedented number of Canadians in the league.
The Canadian team needs to develop chemistry, the bulk of the players are not only new to the program, but most are new to international basketball. Furthermore, they haven't really played together, and while it may not happen in Rio at the Olympics, the players are committed and the program is definitely headed in the right direction.
On the NBA court, the Canadian invasion will continue and it's quite likely a Canadian will be playing in the All-Star Game in Toronto in 2016.
Lewenberg's take: "This really is the golden age of Canadian basketball," Steve Nash famously proclaimed just as the Senior Men's National Team got set to embark on its first test in Venezuela this summer. Despite feelings of renewed optimism and legitimate signs of positive growth in the tournament, the FIBA Americas ended in familiar disappointment for Canada.
However, as Nash and company have reminded us, this is just the beginning. It goes without saying now, because it has been said so many times in recent months, Canada is further along as a basketball nation than it has ever been. Entering his third year in the NBA, Tristan Thompson has exceeded all expectations with the Cavs, Cory Joseph cracked the playoff rotation in San Antonio last spring and Andrew Nicholson is poised for a breakout sophomore season with the Magic.
Then there are Anthony Bennett, Kelly Olynyk and Andrew Wiggins who have played in zero NBA games and have yet to suit up for the Canadian senior team. And that's not to mention the rest of the country's collegiate talent and young players turning heads north of the border every day.
Nash was wrong, or exaggerating for effect. This isn't the golden age of Canadian basketball, not yet. But it's coming and it's not far off.