Jay Triano expects to have the country's best on the court for this summer's Pan American Games.
The coach of Canada's men's basketball team plans to use the Games as a tuneup for the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament in late August, and so will field a young, star-studded squad for the tournament in Toronto.
"Every player that I've talked to has indicated that they want to play in both Pan Ams and the qualifying tournament," Triano said Wednesday. "Had the Pan Ams been somewhere else, we would have had a different story, but the fact it's in our backyard, these guys are pretty excited."
Among that group is Andrew Wiggins, the Minnesota Timberwolves forward who was picked No. 1 overall in last year's NBA draft.
He leads all NBA rookies in scoring with an average of 15.3 points per game.
"It's exciting to have the Pan Am Games in my hometown of Toronto this summer," Wiggins said in a press release announcing the Pan Am basketball schedule. "Having the opportunity to play at home is very special for Team Canada and the country."
The Pan Am draw for both the men's and women's tournament was released early Thursday morning. The men were drawn in Group B with Mexico, Argentina and the Dominican Republic, while the women face Cuba, Argentina and Venezuela in Group B.
Both Triano and women's coach Lisa Thomaidis said the Pan Am Games provides the rare opportunity to play meaningful games on home soil.
"It's a great way to spend two weeks and play games," Triano said "Geographically it's hard for us to play exhibition games, we'd have to go to Europe or we'd have to go to South America. This way we have games that matter in our country, we don't have to travel, and we get to play international games against international teams."
For the women, the Pan Ams fall three weeks before their Olympic qualifying tournament in Edmonton.
"It's a good summer, it's so nice, I can't believe we're going to have two domestic competitions, that's unheard of for us, a chance to compete on home soil and actually get some exposure," Thomaidis said. "We compete in relative obscurity, people don't know who our team is, so to actually be in Canada and be in a huge market like Toronto will be so good for this team and the program, and some of the players who have been in the program for a number of years."
Canadians avoid U.S. in group stage
The men, ranked 25th in the world, open the Games on July 21 versus the No. 20 Dominican Republic at the Mattamy Athletic Centre — formerly known as Maple Leaf Gardens — then face No. 3 Argentina on the 22nd, and 19th-ranked Mexico on the 23rd. The bronze and gold-medal games are July 25th.
The 10th-ranked Canadian women open versus Venezuela (No. 34) on July 16, then face Argentina (14) on the 17th, and Cuba (13) on July 18th. Their medal games are July 20.
Triano said it's tough to predict who will pose the stiffest competition.
"We don't know how other teams are going to approach the Pan Am Games, whether they're going to use it the same way we are, as preparation and getting ready for the qualifying tournament, or if they're going to send a B team and focus their concentration on the later part of the summer," he said.
The United States, Brazil, Puerto Rico and Venezuela make up Group A on the men's side, while the women's Group A has the United States, Brazil, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic.
Puerto Rico beat Mexico for gold in both the men's and women's competitions four years ago in Guadalajara, Mexico.