By Jacob G.
“Olynyk into Joseph, it comes down to this. Joseph got it…Canada wins it at the buzzer!”
You might think that call by commentator Dan Shulman was for the Olympic Gold Medal for the Canadian Men’s basketball team. Except it wasn’t anything close to that. It was the call for the Bronze-Medal Game vs. the host country, Mexico, at the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship, a potential 2016 Summer Olympics qualifying event, located in Palacio de los Deportes, Mexico City.
Twelve of the best Canadian basketball players, which featured nine players who currently play in the National Basketball Association, and three who play in different countries around Europe comprise the team. This was a team that featured superstars in the making, including 2014-15 NBA Rookie-of-the Year, Andrew Wiggins. They also have Jay Triano as coach, who has experience with the Toronto Raptors as head/assistant coach for nine seasons, and was the head coach for team Canada for seven years. They also have Steve Nash, who played 18 seasons in the NBA, where he won two MVP Awards and is now the General Manager of the team.
The preliminary round of the tournament featured 10 teams in total, each qualifying from tournaments all around Americas. In March, countries were grouped with another country with a similar ranking (for example Canada was ranked 25th, and was put into Group B, while Mexico was ranked 19th, and was put into Group A), and were then drawn and put into either Group A or Group B. For this round, each team played one game against each other, and the worst team in the group got eliminated.
Games started on August 31st, but Canada’s schedule started the next day with a showdown with Argentina, and even though four out of five of Canada’s starters scored over 10 points, Luis Scola put up 35 for Argentina to beat Canada 94-87. Canada rebounded from that game with a 42-point win over Cuba, thanks to 15-point games from Wiggins and Nik Stauskas. They also won their next two games over Venezuela and Puerto Rico, thanks once again to Wiggins and Stauskas, as well as Anthony Bennett and Kelly Olynyk who were helping with the rebounds, and Cory Joseph, who was dealing the assists, getting at least five per game through the Preliminary Round. Canada finished 2nd in Group B, (behind Argentina, who had won every game), with three wins, and one loss for a total of seven points, (two points for each win, and one for a loss). Canada led the tournament with a point differential of +75, as they were off to the Second Round, while Brazil and Cuba were eliminated from the tournament.
In the second round, Canada played the rest of the teams in Group B, where they crushed Panama by 37 points, thanks to a 23-point game from Brady Heslip, they beat Uruguay 109-82, and beat hosts Mexico 94-73, with Andrew Wiggins having game-highs in both. The last game of the Second Round against the Dominican Republic, where Canada got their 5th consecutive win, put Canada atop all of the teams, (they had the same record as Mexico and Argentina), but had a point differential of +135.
Since Canada finished first overall in the previous round, they played the 4th-seed Venezuela, who they had previously beat 82-62 in the Preliminary Round, and everyone thought this would be a walkover. This would be a huge match for Canada, and with a win they would punch their ticket to the 2016 Olympics, and the last time that happened Steve Nash was playing.
So the stage was set for Canada to take on Venezuela at 6:00 p.m. Central at Palacio de los Deportes. In the first quarter, Canada fell behind Venezuela 20-19, with Olynyk scoring 11 points, while Canada was nine for 26 for shooting. At the end of the 2nd quarter, Heissler Guillient of Venezuela made a great three-pointer-buzzer beater to give Venezuela the one-point lead, and at that point, ecstatic coach Shay Garcia showed how pumped up this Venezuela team was. In the third quarter, Canada took a two-point lead, but there were unforced errors coming from almost everyone on the team. In the 4th quarter, the game was close, and it looked as though the game was going into overtime, with the score being 78-78, but unfortunately for Canada, Aaron Doornekamp laid a foul on Gregory Vargas’ failed attempt for three, with less than a second remaining in the game. With the foul, Vargas had three shots to win the game for Venezuela, and won the game on the first shot, crushing Canada’s legit shot of making it to the Olympics. This was perhaps Canada’s worst game of the tournament, and unfortunately it had to come during this game. Cory Joseph admitted Canada played horrible, and coach Jay Traino said this about the tournament. “We are going to grow from this and our opportunity to play in the Olympics is put on hold . . . we’re going to have to find a way to make it work next summer.”
Even though they lost, Canada had a chance at bronze in the Third Place Match, where Cory Joseph made the clutch buzzer beater, which commentator Leo Rautins said would leave a better taste in their mouth. Other highlights include: Andrew Wiggins was named to the All Tournament Team. Also, Wiggins, Bennett and Joseph each ranked 7th, 4th and 2nd respectively, on the top 10 plays of the tournament.
Venezuela would also put up another upset, beating Argentina in the final by a score of 76-71.
The bad news for Canada is that they aren’t in the Olympics right now, but the good news is that they finished 3rd, which was one of three tickets to the Final Olympic Qualifying Tournament taking place in July 2016. Canada will be put in one of three tournaments, and if they win their respective tournament, possibly against tough teams including Angola, France, and Serbia, they will be in the Olympics. Here’s more good news: They will probably have Tristan Thompson of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and rising stars Jamal Murray and Thon Maker for the tournament, giving Canada an even better team.
Canada might have lost their most recent shot at getting into the Olympics, but next summer, countries from Europe, Asia, North America, Africa, and Oceania better watch out to the young and coming team.
Andrew Wiggins handling the ball against Argentina
Road To Rio 2016