International basketball isn't just off-season fun for Jermaine Anderson. It's a spotlight and dream for a player who has never competed in the NBA.
So as Anderson spoke about how important it was for Canada's senior men's team to come together at training camp, Tristan Thompson walked over and wrapped an arm around the 30-year-old guard.
Anderson looked relieved — no longer does he have to shoulder the burden of Canada's success alone.
"I'm the young guy now," said Anderson.
Anderson, Thompson and their teammates worked out Tuesday on the Toronto Raptors' practice court at the Air Canada Centre ahead of two exhibition games against Jamaica on Thursday and Saturday.
The 20-player camp will determine who'll be on the roster when Canada travels to Venezuela for the FIBA Americas Championship from Aug. 30 to Sept. 11. The top four tournament teams qualify for next year's FIBA World Cup in Spain.
Anderson, who played professionally last season in Germany, has made over 75 appearances for Canada and has been a member of the senior men's team since 2004. Winning now with the national team is a priority for the player nicknamed Rock.
"It's everything," he said. "Ever since I came here my goal has always been to play in as many world championships as possible and to get to the Olympics, so the goal hasn't changed."
The trick will be to convince the rest of the team those goals are achievable. But if the future can be measured by how many NBA players are on the roster, Canada has reason to be confident.
Thompson (Cleveland Cavaliers), Cory Joseph (San Antonio Spurs), Andrew Nicholson (Orlando Magic) and Joel Anthony (Miami Heat) are all NBA regulars while Anthony Bennett (No. 1 overall this year to Cleveland), Kelly Olynyk (No. 13 to Boston) and phenom Andrew Wiggins (projected to go first overall in next year's draft) are all waiting in the wings.
But the final product in Venezuela will also include international players such as Anderson and Jevohn Shepherd, and perhaps even one current CIS player in Carleton's Philip Scrubb.
Tough road ahead
Bringing the team together quickly is no easy feat. Players have little time to learn coach Jay Triano's systems, get used to new teammates and learn the international game.
"It's very tough. That's why we have to work every day," said Anderson. "We can't waste any time. A lot of these teams, like Brazil and Argentina, have been together for 10-plus years. So we're kind of behind the 8-ball.
"But as long as we continue to work, put team first and check our egos at the door then we should be successful."
A high-tempo scrimmage showed off some of the team's potential Tuesday.
Thompson was fiery, arguing fouls with an official while Joseph flashed terrific speed at point guard as well as some chemistry with his brother, Devoe Joseph.
"Guys are competing," said Thompson. "At the end of the day it's still a tryout.
"Not all these guys here are going to come with us to Venezuela so guys are competing for spots and minutes."
Thompson, 22, won bronze with Canada's under-18 team at the 2008 FIBA Americas Championship and played on the U-19 world squad.
Anderson said Thompson is already bringing the leadership and focus the team needs from its young players.
"He makes it easier on us," said Anderson. "He came here with the right attitude.
"He came here with the leadership role and he's helping us out as well."
Looking for magic
Another potential leader may be Nicholson.
The 23-year-old is making his national senior team debut and using the camp to improve his game. He knows there are suddenly more eyes on the squad now than there has been in a long time.
"There's a lot of hype around it. There should be," he said. "You know we've got a lot of good talent around here. We're just building towards the future."
The first step is the two-game series against Jamaica, a team Anderson called "extremely athletic." Following that, the roster will be decided and the expectation will become firm results, not just hype.
"No one's really expecting us to win," said Thompson. "So we're going to go out there and compete.
"Everyone thinks we're young and inexperienced, so we're just going to put all the cards out and see what happens."