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Team Canada Facing Familiar Challenges

The San Antonio Spurs’ Cory Joseph has decided to play for Team Canada this summer.

For a few years, it seemed as though Pickering’s Cory Joseph and Brampton’s Tristan Thompson were quite content to do everything together.
As basketball stars at Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nevada, in their senior year of high school, each went directly to the University of Texas to play for the Longhorns after graduation, and each declared for the NBA draft after only his freshman season.
But as Canada’s senior men’s basketball team put the finishing touches on an ugly win over Belgium in an exhibition game Saturday at Ryerson University’s Kerr Hall gym, it was clear that Joseph and Thompson are now walking different paths: Joseph has elected to play for Team Canada, while Thompson has chosen not to, blaming his absence on fatigue resulting from rigorous pre-draft workouts.
The game at Ryerson, and another between the two teams the following afternoon at McMaster University, comprised the fifth incarnation of the Jack Donohue International Classic, named for the legendary coach who led Team Canada to a fourth-place Olympic finish in 1976. It is usually intended as a tune-up for the national team in advance of the biennial late-summer FIBA Americas Championship.
And, although the Canadians never trailed en route to a 79-74 win, a tune-up seemed to be just what the home side needed.

Surely, Canada Basketball CEO Wayne Parrish meant no disrespect to the Belgian men’s team when he addressed them from centre court shortly before tip-off, but he did stop short of praising a basketball program ranked outside the top 75 in the world.
“It’s tough to get South American and European teams to come over here and play games at this time of year, but you guys did,” Parrish told the Belgian team. “Thank you so much for being here.”

Canada’s Joel Anthony and Belgium’s Tomas Van Den Spiegel battle for the opening tip at Ryerson University on Saturday.

Just as certain as Belgium was about the best competition available for this back-to-back weekend set is the fact that Canada will have to show considerable improvement if they have any hopes of holding their own against stiffer competition when the FIBA tournament kicks off in Argentina at the end of the month. Canada will need to reach the gold medal game there to be assured of an Olympic berth in 2012.
Regardless, the atmosphere in the intimate venue was lively Saturday evening, where a crowd of some 500 fans filled long rows of benches and stood wherever space could be found.
And they often had occasion to cheer during the game, as starting shooting guard Andy Rautins scored 26 points, seven-year veteran point guard Jermaine Anderson shot a perfect seven for seven from the field and Joel Anthony, better known as the starting centre for the Miami Heat, came down with what seemed like every rebound.
But perhaps the largest cheer during the pre-game player introductions was for Joseph.
Not surprising considering that Joseph, along with the absent Thompson, may just be on the verge of making a name for himself in the NBA. He fared well on draft night, selected in the first round, 29th overall, by the San Antonio Spurs.
Thompson made a far bigger splash earlier in the night when, widely predicted to be chosen near the back of the top ten, he was the surprise selection of the Cleveland Cavaliers with the fourth overall pick.
If Thompson’s decision not to play this summer has raised eyebrows, it is because he is not the only Canadian in the NBA to seem less than enthusiastic to suit up for international competition. Two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash and Jamaal Magloire of the Miami Heat, for example, are regular Team Canada no-shows, while the Sacramento Kings’ Samuel Dalembert left midway through an Olympic qualifier in 2008 after a falling out with head coach Leo Rautins and amid accusations that he had been behaving like a prima donna.
For a country with a deeper pool of talent to draw on, these individuals’ personal decisions would not be such a big deal. But for Canada, whose senior men’s team fell to a humbling 23rd in the world after last year’s poor showing at the FIBA World Championship, every able body that opts out is a major blow.
This fact is certainly not lost on coach Rautins, who lauded Joseph’s dedication at a brief post-game press conference Saturday. “It’s a great example for the young kids out there,” Rautins said. “Cory’s a first-round pick in the NBA, and he’s here.”
Joseph is indeed setting a great example, especially as he is considered to be one of the leaders of a new generation of elite Canadian talent currently making its way through American high schools and colleges into the NBA, a group which includes Toronto’s Myck Kabongo and Montreal’s Khem Birch.
But we should hesitate to congratulate Joseph too effusively, lest we lose perspective.
After all, the story is not one man’s decision to do the right thing. It is the distressing reality that, once he becomes a professional, we can no longer take a young player’s desire to compete for his country for granted.
Only time will tell us whether Thompson goes on to follow the path of perpetual non-participation preferred by Nash and others, or the one preferred by veteran forward Levon Kendall, honoured in a ceremony before Saturday’s tip-off for having played his 100th game as a member of the men’s team over the course of 10 successive summers.
Only time, also, to tell us who the “kids” Rautins mentions will eventually choose to emulate in this regard.
Photos by Daryl Buttineau.


  • simyau

    I wish Steve Nash would play too. We all do. But do insinuate he set a “path of perpetual non-participation” in the program is insulting.

    Nash spent roughly a decade with the National program, from Junior to Seniors and led Canada to an inspirational run in the 2000 Olympic Games.

    Yes, in his late 30's and perhaps still disenfranchised with the program after it fired his friend Jay Triano, he might be a bit tired of the politics and unconvinced of the experience to trot out there anymore, even though he's eminently able bodied still.

    Praise Levon Kendall for playing 100 games sure. But Nash has played 99 games for Canada himself.

    We all wish he'd give more but don't kick dirt on the legacy he's built so far.

  • tomwest

    Can someone explain why we have to use the concoction “Team Canada”? What's wrong with “Canadian Team” – or better yet “Canadian Basketball team”, so we know the sport?


    Awesome story I have added to Check it out. Feel free to add you own stories to our community for millions to see. Download the Bookmarklet for quick sharing

    Tristan will be there in the lockterm but Canada needs him now!

  • Christopher Tse

    Cosign simyau.  Nash has done more for the national program than most of us care to acknowledge.  Fact of the matter is that the man spends his sideline time in the NBA getting stretched and rubbed down, and still gives 35 minutes nightly.  Nash has paid his dues and talks openly of his love for Canada; don't disrespect the greatest basketball player this country has ever had.

    As for Thompson, to even propose that his absence this summer might be indicative of his reluctance to represent Canada in the future is also unfair.  Here's a player who has starred for the junior national team in the past and constantly shouts out Canada in interviews.  Additionally, the kid just spent upwards of three months preparing and working out for the draft (and that's tiring both physically AND mentally.)  With so many expectations on his shoulders (especially considering many Cavs fans didn't want him at four,) he probably just wants some time to recuperate and ensure that he'll be at his best for the season, if there is one.

    This article is well-written and well-intentioned, but ultimately misguided.  If this is the sort of public vilification Thompson should expect for choosing to pass on ONE competition, what kind of pressure does that place on the next generation of Canadian stars?

  • Justin Sorbara-Hosker

    Sure, I'd love to have Thompson participate, fingers crossed.  But Nash's 'perpetual non-participation?' I think a bit of fact checking and perspective is required here.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    Team Nation seems to be a standard in international sporting organization naming.

    In my mind “Canadian” is begging for an article, which would make it a generic identifier rather than the official name.

  • Duane Watson

    Completely agree with the previous commenters in regards to Nash. Also, mentioning Dalembert amidst “accusations” is leading the jury. I know intimately his reasons for leaving the team and while I won't disclose it here, you have to question why Canada doesn't seem to get it's best talent out to compete.

    Well written piece, just not wholly informed.