Rautins resigns as Canada fails in Olympic bid
The Olympic dream for Canada's men's basketball team is over and now there's a void at the top.
Leo Rautins stepped down as the coach Thursday, hours after watching Panama put the final nail in the coffin of Canada's hopes of qualifying for London 2012.
"This hasn't been a job, this has been a passion … something that I've loved doing," Rautins said on a conference call, pausing to collect his thoughts. "I love this program."
Rautins, whose contract was set to run through to October 2012, resigned after Panama upset Canada 91-89 at the FIBA Olympic Americas tournament in Argentina.
The Canadians finished with a 2-5 record and failed to qualify for a second-chance Olympic qualification tournament next summer ahead of the London Games.
Canada has not qualified for the Olympics since 2000.
"The players have given me everything that I've asked [but] I think for the benefit of this program going forward, a new voice in the locker-room will be the best thing," said Rautins, who has coached the national team since 2005.
"We could very easily be in the final four of this tournament. A shot here, a couple of stops there, maybe a little luck as opposed to what we've had, but I think it's time [to step down]."
Like so many other competitions during Rautins' tenure, injuries and players turning down invitations plagued Canada.
The Canadians needed to beat Panama and hope for a Uruguay victory over Venezuela to keep its Olympic hopes alive. Neither happened as Venezuela defeated the Uruguayans 92-80 later Thursday.
Wayne Parrish, Canada Basketball's executive director and CEO, called Rautins the "heart and soul" of the program and hoped he would stay on in some capacity.
"We have said going back three years that the real focus is [the Olympics] in 2016," Parrish said. "That hasn't changed, but I think we've built in elements and features that have got us along that trajectory.
"I know the success this program is going to have in the future is going to be tied in large part to what Leo has achieved."
Gary Forbes scored 39 points for Panama against Canada, including a late three-pointer that put the game out of reach.
Carl English led Canada with 24 points. Andy Rautins, Leo's son, added 14, while Kelly Olynyk and Jevohn Shepherd had 13 points each. Levon Kendall was Canada's top rebounder with seven.
The tournament ends Sunday with the top two teams qualifying for the Olympics. The third- through fifth-place teams will play in the qualifier to determine the final three Olympic entries.
Canada and Venezuela entered the day with identical 2-4 records but Venezuela owned the tiebreaker by virtue of a win in their head-to-head matchup.
Canada's Aaron Doornekamp didn't dress due to a concussion and fellow centre Joel Anthony sat out with an ankle injury.
Argentina, Puerto Rico, Brazil and the Dominican Republic had already clinched spots in the final four. In Thursday's other games, Brazil defeated Puerto Rico 94-72, while Argentina beat the Dominican Republic 84-58.
That set up Saturday's semifinals where the winners secure berths for the London Olympics.
Brazil (6-1) faces the Dominican Republic (4-3) in one semifinal while Argentina (6-1) meets Puerto Rico (5-2). The winners move to Sunday's finals.
The United States has already qualified for the Games after winning the world championship last year.
Rautins played for the national team from 1977 to 1982 and returned to the squad for the 1992 Olympics.
The 51-year-old Toronto native has been frustrated by the inability to use all his talent, including two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash.
"It would be wonderful if our country was able to put the best players we have on the floor," Rautins said. "[But] I don't ever question players that don't. Everybody's got careers, families, injuries … a lot of things that they have to consider before playing.
"I just think that somehow in our country we have to look at playing for the national team as an honour and something that is very special."
Rautins played U.S. college basketball at Syracuse and was taken 17th overall in the 1983 NBA entry draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. He saw limited action in his rookie campaign with the Sixers and played four games for the Atlanta Hawks the following season.
"One of the things I've told the players is I didn't take this job to enhance my reputation, to become an NBA coach, to use this as a launching pad," said Rautins, who also played in pro leagues in Spain and France from 1985 to 1992. "I took this job because I love this program and I want to see this program succeed.
"I know what this program can become and I think we've done a lot of very, very positive things."