MONTREAL — With seconds left in Tuesday's scrimmage, Kelly Olynyk fired a pass to Aaron Best in the corner. Best drained the game-winning three-pointer as the buzzer sounded. A grinning Tristan Thompson sprinted onto the floor and wrapped his long arms around Best.
The scene — an NBA champion celebrating a Canadian university product — said plenty about this version of Canada's men's basketball team, which hosts Brazil on Thursday in World Cup qualifying in Laval, Que.
Thompson said he'll happily play the part of team leader.
"Definitely the experience and just being part of a journey that guys look at and they want to pick my brain, ask questions," Thompson said on what he gives the team. "And it's not just myself, it's me, Kelly and Cory (Joseph), we have a lot of experience both NBA and international, where we can help these guys and kind of just build a culture.
"I think that's the most important thing, you've got to build a culture. You see that in the NBA, teams that have long-term success and longevity (are) teams that build a culture, and that's what we're trying to do here."
The 27-year-old hasn't played for the national team since a heartbreaking 83-74 loss to France in the Philippines that kept Canada home from the Rio Olympics. He jokingly cursed San Antonio-turned-Charlotte Hornet guard Tony Parker, who had 26 points to lead France.
"Damn T.P. He didn't really play all that well all the games until against us," Thompson said.
Joking aside, the loss stung. It's a big reason why, despite playing well into June four consecutive seasons, Thompson is in Montreal, and committed to building a winning culture with Canada's team.
"Obviously, it definitely put a damper on my summer," he said. "It got us hungry, myself and Cory, we were hungry to get back out there and put us in a position to take a step further for our country.
"When you're able to play for your country, and represent everyone back home, there's no feeling like it. It's something we're trying to build up, and have guys being prideful to play for their country, and take it seriously. A little bragging rights. There's opportunity here."
Thompson, Joseph, Olynyk, Khem Birch and Justin Jackson are the five NBA players who'll suit up on Thursday. Dillon Brooks was named to the roster, but is sick with the flu and didn't make the trip to Montreal.
Canada plays in Chile on Monday, and with NBA training camps opening a week later, it's unlikely any of them will make the long flight.
Canadian coach Roy Rana praised the enthusiasm Thompson has brought to camp.
"He's just such a tremendous character. His presence is a tremendous confidence builder for everybody. His presence just changes the environment," Rana said. "Everyone feels a lot more confident with him around and obviously he's such a warrior, he impacts the game in so many small ways that people don't see and he's a winner. He's won an NBA title, that's always nice to have on your roster."
Blue Devils rookie R.J. Barrett was also en route to Montreal on Tuesday after Duke was shut down ahead of Hurricane Florence. Barrett, who made his senior team debut in two World Cup qualifying wins earlier this summer, is unavailable to play Thursday, but wanted to be in Montreal to support the squad.
Barrett will be a big part of what Thompson believes is a bright future for Canada.
"We could be very talented," Thompson said. "I was talking to some of my friends, we could potentially have maybe 10 guys, NBA players, on the team if we're all available. I think the only country that can do that is USA. That's pretty impressive.
"I think for us, it's on me, Kelly and Cory to represent and take care of business on Thursday, and get that high energy and get guys excited about their national team. So that's how we view it."
Joseph, meanwhile, said he "loves" being back on the court with his former Texas Longhorns NCAA teammate.
"I can just throw up any shot, he's going to get it," the Indiana Pacers guard said. "He's going to get the rebound for us, or he's going to get the putback where I just throw it up to him by the rim and he's going to dunk it. Makes my job that much easier."
It helps, he said, that they've been friends since childhood.
"He's still one of my best friends. A lot of chemistry, we know each other's game, we've been playing with and against each other for so long," Joseph said. "Him, Kelly, all these guys, not just Tristan, everybody here ... It's much more than basketball, off the court and on the court. It's a brotherhood, and I have a great time. That's why I'm always here."
Canada takes a 5-1 record into Thursday's game. The next two qualifying windows see Canada play at Venezuela on Nov. 30 and Brazil on Dec. 3. Canada will host Chile on Feb. 21 and Venezuela on Feb. 24.
The World Cup is Aug. 31 to Sept. 15 in China.