Jay Triano can't hide his disappointment about missing a key shot at qualifying for the Olympic men's basketball tournament. But the longtime coach of the Canadian team isn't ready to give up.
"The one thing that I would like more than anything is to get 12 more Canadians to an Olympic Games," said Triano.
For more than 30 years, Triano has played an integral part in Canadian basketball. He boasts this resumé:
- Competed for Canada at two Olympics.
- Helped establish the Vancouver Grizzlies when the team made its NBA debut.
- Head coach of the Toronto Raptors from 2008 to 2011.
- From 1998 to 2004, served as national team coach.
Now, he's back at the helm, hoping to guide Canada to its first Olympic berth since 2000.
"Those guys will have that memory and honour for the rest of their lives," Triano believes. "I feel that way about the 2000 team. There's a bond that we had with that team that we still have because we were Olympians together."
Motivated by loss
The road to the Olympics took a serious detour this summer after a crushing defeat to Venezuela at the FIBA Americas tournament in Mexico City. All they needed to secure an Olympic spot was a semifinal win over the team they beat by 20 points a week earlier, but the Canadians collapsed down the stretch. Now they'll have to beat Turkey and France, among other teams, at a July qualifier in Manila to get back to the Games.
"I was disappointed for sure. It was emotional for our players," said Triano. "The window for summer athletes doesn't come around very often. We have a chance this summer. And hopefully the experience last summer leaves a bad enough taste in our mouths that we use it as motivation this year."
One of the players playing a prominent role in Canada's qualifying chances is Toronto Raptors guard Cory Joseph. He was named team captain prior to the FIBA qualifying tournament. The Toronto native says the Canadian basketball program is setting up to be an international powerhouse.
"Playing for Canada is one of the most rewarding experiences in my career," said Joseph, ahead of the NBA All-Star Game in Toronto, where the state of the Canadian basketball program is getting some attention. "We're a young team, and with coach Triano and [general manager Steve] Nash at the helm we're really building our style of play and creating a culture that we all want to be a part of. We've got the talent and we want to make Canada a world leader in basketball."
A number of Canadian players can be found on NBA rosters around North America, including Minnesota's Andrew Wiggins, Cleveland's Tristan Thompson and Boston's Kelly Olynyk, to name a few.
Coach Triano has one of the best seats to evaluate their progress on a nightly basis. Now in his second year as a Portland Trailblazers assistant coach, Triano is an obsessive note-taker and meticulously studies every player on the court.
"I'm very fortunate to be in Portland where I'm constantly working with players and finding out what works, scouting other teams and constantly building our database from other teams," said Triano.
Building for the future
For as much pressure as there is right now for Canada to book a ticket to Rio, Triano will be the first to tell you that the country is still in a building phase.
"I think what people don't understand is that when we started this, we thought in 2020 we would have all of our best players at the prime of their career, but we have to get them the experience now," said Triano. "It's a challenge right now to manage expectations because people expect us to be good just because we're stacked with NBA players."
Once the NBA season ends in Portland, Triano will immediately shift all of his focus to Team Canada, ensuring the team is ready for its last qualifying opportunity in July. He has the eight-time NBA all-star Nash by his side.
Triano won't make predictions about this team's chances, but there's a quiet confidence in the former guard about Canada qualifying.
"I think people in the basketball world with realistic expectations understand we are very young as far as the international game goes. We like where we are. We talk as a staff. It's about the process. The tough lesson we learned is that anything can happen in one game."