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Olympians and would-be Olympians throughout Canada heard the news and felt the pain.
Oh for the vast majority it was a quick turn to — this is what had to be done — but you don’t spend years of your life training for something and then not feel jaded when it’s pulled away from you by something completely out of your control.
Make no mistake, the COC’s decision to be the trailblazer and let the world know Canada would not be part of any Games this summer so closely placed to a pandemic that could very well still be going on as the Opening Ceremonies are unveiled is the right one.
Within the basketball community, like the track community or the swimming community and every other segment with a national sports program, this is a gut punch.
The senior women’s basketball team had already qualified, and were putting the finishing touches on their planning for their third consecutive Games. Ranked fourth in the world going in, Canada’s top female hoopsters were a serious threat for a medal and they knew it.
They booked their ticket to Tokyo with a 30-point win over Sweden on Feb. 7 having lost just once in 11 qualifying games on that path. The lone blemish was a loss to the No. 1 ranked U.S. squad.
The celebration of that qualification was a far cry from the qualifying celebration eight years earlier when this group booked its first trip to the Olympics. This time around they held aloft a giant ticket that read “qualified.” The takeaway was obvious. This team had much loftier goals than just getting to the Games. They wanted, and expected, to go there and medal.
And they may yet do so but it’s looking more and more like that chance will come a year later than it could have and that’s a best-case scenario. Worst case they could be waiting another four years for another crack at it.
Canada is in great form now building toward what they all hoped would be peak form come July 27 when the preliminary round is still currently scheduled to tip off.
“Canada Basketball supports the decision made (Sunday) night by the Canadian Olympic Committee,” said Glen Grunwald, President & CEO of Canada Basketball in a prepared statement. “Our athletes are considered by many to be role models and to put them in an unfair position to ask them to continue training and preparing for the Games sends the wrong message to all Canadians.
“Basketball, and sport in general, has an ability to bring people together and when it is safe to do so, we will use the power of our game to help heal our communities from coast-to-coast-to-coast.”
On the men’s side of Basketball Canada there was still work to do to book the ticket but it still feels like an opportunity lost.
For the first time ever really — even in the days of Steve Nash leading the charge as a player there were always no-shows when Canada went looking to the national players on NBA rosters — the buy in was extremely encouraging.
It began with Kitchener native and Denver Nuggets point guard Jamal Murray’s commitment to the program for the summer earlier this season. What followed was a host of other commitments from the likes Shae Gilgeous-Alexander, RJ Barrett, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Dillon Brooks, Chris Boucher, OShea Brissett and a handful of others.
In terms of commitment it’s a complete about-face to the previous summer when FIBA changed the schedule putting it right up against NBA training camps in a year where the first qualifier, the FIBA World Cup, was being held on the other side of the world in China.
For that tournament Canada had a total of three NBA commitments and that was reduced to two when Kelly Olynyk got hurt in the run-up to the World Cup.
Now it appears that groundswell of support will be wasted. The process will have to start all over again under different circumstances a year from now assuming the IOC goes ahead and does the right thing in postponing the Games for a year.
Those changing circumstances can be both a positive and a negative.
It’s a positive in that head coach Nick Nurse may not be looking at making do with less in the big man department. For starters Dallas big man Dwight Powell would be fully recovered from a right Achilles’ tendon tear he suffered in January that took him out of the picture for the 2020 Games.
There were also the unlikely availability of both Olynyk and Tristan Thompson who could both be without NBA contracts at the time of the qualifying and therefore uninsured very much negating their chance of playing.
A year later all three should be in a much better situation to answer the call.
On the downside more than a year from now those commitments might not be there for any number of reasons be that injury, or contract status or what have you.
For instance, Gilgeous-Alexander would be possibly looking at a max contract negotiation heading into next summer and with that over his head would he risk injury to play for Canada and perhaps jeopardize that?
Raptors’ head coach Nick Nurse would also have to be re-signed as his contract with Basketball Canada only extends through the 2020 Games.
The point is the program was in as good a position as it has been probably ever been to qualify and there’s no guarantee they can get that back a year later even if the Games are postponed.
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