Canada Basketball brass remains confident in NBA participation at Olympic qualifier

With the Olympic men’s basketball qualifying tournament less than two months away, Team Canada General Manager Rowan Barrett remains hopeful of fielding a mostly full roster.

GM Barrett, coach Nurse say they anticipate good turnout for last-chance tournament

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray was among the Canadians to commit to the Olympic qualifying tournament in November 2019, but his participation hinges on the success of his NBA team. (David Zalubowski/The Associated Press)

With the Olympic men's basketball qualifying tournament less than two months away, Team Canada general manager Rowan Barrett remains hopeful of fielding a mostly full roster.

"Yes. The simple answer is yes," Barrett said when asked if he anticipates full participation from Canadian NBA players.

Canada must win the tournament, scheduled for June 29-July 4 in Victoria, in order to book its ticket to the Tokyo Games.

Due to the delay of the NBA season, however, those dates conflict with the playoffs that run through July 22. The Victoria tournament should fall toward the end of the second round or beginning of the conference finals, and any Canadians still contesting for the title would be extremely unlikely to leave their NBA team.

Prior to the pandemic, in November 2019, Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, of Kitchener, Ont., led a chorus of NBA players committing to the qualifying tournament. Others included Oklahoma City guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Hamilton, Ont.), Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks (Mississauga, Ont.) and New Orleans Pelicans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker (Toronto).

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Last week, Canada head coach Nick Nurse said he also expected a "very high participation rate," while revealing that the organization had recently conducted a big meeting ahead of the qualifier to plan out the summer.

With the schedule in flux amid the pandemic, Barrett says that meeting was mostly to go over the latest changes and protocols, which are then relayed to players.

"They're in their seasons right now so it's not like you're trying to call them every week about all this stuff, but give them the broad strokes of the times going on to make sure everyone's aware of what the summer will look like for us," Barrett said.

Potentially busy summer ahead

Michael Meeks, an assistant coach on Nurse's staff, said training camp would likely start around mid-June. The team is scheduled to play a CEBL all-star team on June 18.

"And then from there, it's moving on to prepare for the Olympic Games," Meeks, who played for Canada's last Olympic men's basketball entrant in 2000, said.

With Nurse's Toronto Raptors outside of the playoffs, the coach is seeming likelier to be with the team for the entire duration of its summer schedule. But Murray, the top Canadian player, presents a dicier scenario, with his Nuggets sitting fourth in the West and coming off a conference finals appearance in 2020.

Canada, ranked 21st by FIBA, is grouped with No. 6 Greece and No. 29 China in the qualifying tournament. The top two teams from there advance to the semifinals, where each meets a team from Group B, which includes the No. 12 Czech Republic, No. 15 Turkey and No. 45 Uruguay.

The semifinals and final are single elimination, with the champion advancing to the Tokyo Olympics.

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