Andrew Wiggins' announcement this past week that he wouldn't be joining Canada Basketball's junior men's team for the FIBA under-19 world championship next month was met with fairly predictable reaction: knee-jerk indignation in one corner and ambivalence elsewhere.
Sensing the same old story of Canada's best hoopsters avoiding national team duty, one prominent Toronto sports radio host summarized it by saying, "We've seen this movie before."
While many of Wiggins' critics on this issue would be hard pressed to name the last time they watched a Canada Basketball game involving any age level or gender, the truth of the matter is the majority of Canadians probably had no idea the U19 worlds were even happening.
In the past, legitimate reasons for some players not suiting up in the maple leaf have been unfairly lumped together with the indifference of others and that's something Wiggins' father, Mitchell, was perhaps trying to stress to me this week at the junior camp's Red and White game in Toronto.
"Up until this year, he's played in all of Canada's tournaments," the senior Wiggins said of his son, who has been involved in the national program since he was 14 and has never before hesitated to represent his country.
"The last couple of years have been very taxing on him," Mitchell said, referring to the snowballing media storm that peaked (for now) with last month's decision to attend the University of Kansas.
"We talked to [national senior men's team general manager] Steve Nash and [Jayhawks head coach] Bill Self and we tried to come up with a program that fits everybody, but also gets Andrew some rest because, at the end of the day he's 18. He's a talented kid, but he's 18."
Wiggins will attend summer school at Kansas and take advantage of what's widely considered to be one of the best fitness programs in the NCAA, in terms of player development.
"The biggest thing was having Steve, Canada Basketball and coach Self on the same page," Mitchell told me. "He's committed to the Canadian national program, but we just felt this was best route for him to go."
The scenario does beg the question though: If this summer requires Wiggins taking a step back to catch his breath and prepare, what will next summer -- when he's expected to go No. 1 in the NBA Draft -- bring? Will his pro team, whom he will have yet to play a minute for, frown upon him suiting up for Canada in an even bigger tournament -- the FIBA world championships -- should they get there? As it stands now, Wiggins will not be taking part in the qualifying for that either, the FIBA Americas tournament in Venezuela this August.
His father, who, it should be noted, is now employed by Canada Basketball as a scout, says historically jaded fans have nothing to worry about.
"I think the route he's chosen to go is the right way because, after this year, things will change," he said. "After this year, he's not going to have a lot of [down time]. He'll be playing on the national team and, hopefully, in the NBA ... he's going to be fresh, he's going to be healthy and his commitment is there as far as Canada Basketball."
While there's no question that the absence of Andrew is a significant loss for Canada at the U19 worlds, there's also a feeling among some observers that it's a great opportunity for the rest of the players in what's been called the "golden age of Canadian basketball" to step up and show that there is a lot more talent here.
"I was little bit sad," Team Canada guard and high school teammate Xavier Rathan-Mayes said. "He's one of my best friends, but I know where he's coming from."
Rathan-Mayes joins fellow guards like Syracuse recruit Tyler Ennis, South Carolina commit Duane Notice and blue-chip high schooler Trey Lyles on Canada's U19 entry, which will travel to the Czech Republic. He also stressed that the team-oriented style of head coach Roy Rana doesn't change without Wiggins.
"Coach Rana has always done a good job of getting everyone the ball [even with Andrew] ...and with the talent we have, I think we'll be fine," Rathan-Mayes said.
Meanwhile, more of that talent has been on display on a different squad this past week in China. The men's developmental national team coached by Jay Triano, in his first national bench boss duty in almost a decade, beat the U.S. twice in four days at the Four Nations Tournament. The tournament is a tuneup for the World University Games in Russia and Canada's impressive team features NCAA players such as Dwight Powell, Kyle Wiltjer, Melvin Ejim and Kevin Pangos.
NBA Finals not all about Big 3s
For all the talk coming into the NBA Finals about the "Big 3" on both teams, there wasn't much to report in terms of the concurrent success of all six players in this series until Game 4, at least from a Miami Heat perspective. Going into Game 4, many were even ready to call it -- and it's a very legitimate observation -- the end of the Heat "dynasty."
Yet before a banged-up Dwyane Wade could continue to cast doubt on his abilities as if he was a 31-year-old (the rusher's magic time wall) NFL running back and not a 31-year-old NBA superstar, he went off old school, driving to the basket and racking up 32 points -- his highest tally since early March. Much-maligned Chris Bosh played aggressive (for a change) down low, finishing with 20 points and 13 rebounds. And all of this with LeBron James bouncing back from a dreadful Game 3 with 33 points and 11 rebounds in a 109-93 win over the San Antonio Spurs. In other words, the Heat got what they used to get -- and expected from their Big 3 when the team was assembled in 2010, when James predicted eight titles.
Tough questions about the makeup of this team in the future aside (ultimately tied to James' pending free agency next summer), this Heat squad has always responded well with their back against the wall. That the Spurs turned the ball over at a 2-to-1 clip in Game 4 didn't help, either.
San Antonio has reason to be concerned. While it's still noteworthy that their triumvirate of role players (Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal) matched James, Wade and Bosh in total points (130) in Games 1 through 3, the shortcomings of the Spurs' Big 3 as a whole, but especially Manu Ginobili, are clear. The Argentine guard has been terrible in the Finals, but that doesn't completely cripple San Antonio. The fear now is that the Spurs' best player by far, Tony Parker, is playing hurt. Tim Duncan has been inconsistent, sort of, shooting a putrid 3-of-13 in a Game 2 loss, but still pulling down 11 rebounds in Game 3 to go with 14 points. In Game 4, though, he scored 20 points (getting to the line 10 times), but was outrebounded 13-5 by Bosh.
The way this series is shaping up of course, it's a you-win, I-win until Game 7 and that means a Heat title. If the Spurs wants to win, they're going to have to break that trend. It's really amazing that the Spurs have never trailed an NBA Finals series -- and probably won't here, either -- but may well end up losing the whole thing.
Follow John Chick on Twitter @roofthatpeach
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