The NBA’s newest sensation may not be coming to Manila for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, but in his place is a legend who is now at the forefront of Canada’s bid to make it to back to the Summer Games Rio de Janeiro is hosting come August.
Two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash, now the general manager of Canada’s national team, is set to come for the July 5-10 OQT at the Mall of Asia Arena and he is bringing with him a group of players all projected to make up for the absence of 2014-15 NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins.
The Canadians also have this one overwhelming aim, which is to return to the quadrennial meet after failing to make it in the Games’ last three editions.
Aside from the Minnesota Timberwolves star, other NBA players Tristan Thompson (Cleveland Cavaliers), Andrew Nicholson (Orlando Magic), Kelly Olynyk (Boston Celtics), Robert Sacre (LA Lakers), Nik Stauskas (Philadelphia 76ers) and Dwight Powell (Dallas Mavericks) are not included in the initial 19-man pool Canada Basketball bared last week. Olynyk is out for six months and has ruled himself out of the FIBA OQT.
Both Nash and coach Jay Triano have stated said absent players are welcome to join the pool should they decide to do so.
“Given the time of year, player availability is always changing,” said Nash, who was part of Canada’s squad in the 2000 Olympics, the last time it made the Summer Games, through Canada Basketball’s Twitter account @CanBball.
“We’re continuing to talk to teams and players may become available as the summer progresses. Playing for your country is an honor, we have a deep pool of talent who are committed to playing for Canada and we’re ready to get to work.”
Canada already has in its preliminary pool a surplus of other players, both from the NBA and other leagues, who could get the job done.
Leading the way is Toronto Raptor point guard Cory Joseph, who showed nerves of steel by sinking two clutch jumpers inside the last 13 seconds against Mexico that gave Canada third place in last year’s FIBA Americas and a ticket to the Manila OQT.
Joseph’s chief alternate in playmaking chores is expected to be Tyler Ennis of the Milwakee Bucks with Pallacanestro Cantu’s Brady Heslip, Triano’s nephew who once scored 40 points in 24 minutes while playing for Baylor, good for both the 1 and 2 spots.
The wings should not be a problem either, notwithstanding Wiggins’ absence. 2013 NBA #1 pick Anthony Bennett has rejoined the national team. Up-and-coming Dillon Brooks, a star for the Oregon Ducks and a projected first round pick in next year’s NBA draft, is also in the pool along with brothers Philip and Thomas Scrubb, Reyer Venezia’s Melvin Ejim, Dutch Basketball League All-Star Tyson Hinz and University of Dayton’s Dyshawnn Pierre.
Thompson should further beef up a frontline that has the veteran Joel Anthony (Detroit Pistons), 7’5 center Sim Bhullar (Raptors), 6’10 forward-center Levon Kendall (Movistar Estudiantes) and Brooks’ college teammate, 6’10 shot-blocking specialist Chris Boucher.
In the Manila OQT, Canada has been bracketed in Group A with Turkey and Senegal. If the Canadians finish in the top two, they will play either France, New Zealand or Gilas Pilipinas from Group B in the knockout semifinal.
The Final Four winners will square off with a spot in the Rio Games at stake.