Canadian men win group in 1st round of FIBA World Cup qualifying
Team boasting 5 NBA players, rising stars routs U.S. Virgin Islands in Ottawa
The final buzzer sounded on Canada's first round of FIBA World Cup qualifying on Monday night — job No. 1 complete.
Kelly Olynyk and Phil Scrubb scored 14 points apiece, while teenager R.J. Barrett added 13, and the Canadians defeated the U.S. Virgin Island 99-69, to win their group in the opening round of FIBA Americas World Cup qualifying.
The game capped a successful two-week camp for a Canadian squad bolstered both by NBA reinforcements, and a couple of rising teenage stars. It was one of the best senior squads ever put together, and gave a tantalizing glimpse of what might be.
"We've always said we've been a young international team and now we're starting to reach our prime, and reaching our prime is a big thing right now, and it's time, because it's the world championships and the Olympics (coming up)," said head coach Jay Triano.
Combined with two exhibition wins over China, the Canadians won four games by 30 points or more.
"I'm pleased," Triano said. "I like the fact that we had depth, our guys were locked in, we didn't play to necessarily win games as we did one possession at a time, and I think that will bode well for us in the future.
"Play the right way, that was the message so we continue to build and understand each other, and get better and we know how we're going to play the international game."
Dillon Brooks added 12 points, while Cory Joseph had six assists and six rebounds for Canada (5-1).
Canada was coming off a 97-61 rout of the Dominican Republic on Friday in Toronto, a victory that vaulted the Canadians atop the group. They needed only to win Monday to clinch top spot. Boasting NBAers Olynyk, Brooks, Joseph, Khem Birch, and Dwight Powell, plus 18-year-olds Barrett and Andrew Nembhard, a victory was practically a given before the first ball was tossed up.
Found groove in 2nd quarter
The Canadians, No. 23 in the FIBA rankings, missed some shots early on, but found their groove by the second quarter, and by the time they went into the fourth at TD Place they had a 77-50 advantage on the 49th-ranked Virgin Islands.
"Second half we just picked up the energy once again, locked in on our defensive execution, and executed really well, able to get more points on the board . . . and build a lead," Joseph said.
Scrubb, who starred for Carleton Ravens in Canada's capital, drew cheers from the Ottawa crowd when he drilled a three early in the fourth, and the Canadians cruised the rest of the way.
The players lingered outside the dressing room long after the game ended, before dispatching for basketball points abroad. Barrett, an 18-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., was flying straight from Ottawa to Duke University to begin his freshman season. His senior team debut came at a good time, he said.
"It was great, it was a lot of fun, a lot of positive things, and a lot of things to work on as I'm going onto the next level," he said. "Having NBA guys around, NBA coaches around was a great experience."
The Canadians beat the U.S. Virgin Islands 118-89 on Feb. 22 in the Bahamas, but didn't have their NBA reinforcements — or Barrett who was still playing high school ball — for that qualifying window.
2nd round begins in September
The top three teams in each of the four qualifying groups will now be split into two new groups of six teams apiece for the second round which begins in September, and has games in November and February.
Olynyk and Joseph, who've always answered the call to play for Canada, said they hope the success the team has had the last two weeks continues to draw the country's best. The notable absences in this camp were Andrew Wiggins, Jamal Murray, and Tristan Thompson, although Thompson was at Friday's game.
"Kelly and I have always loved to play for our country, and as we get more talented, and we do bigger things individually and we start showing results, I think it's definitely contagious," Joseph said.
The Indiana Pacers guard said national team duty is an "important" launchpad into his NBA season.
"I have fun, I get better, I see guys that I haven't seen in a long time, that I grew up with, that I track during the year," Joseph said. "It's very fun for me, and I've always made it important to get out here and work with these guys in the summer."
Thirty-two countries, including seven from the Americas, will play in the World Cup — the main qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics — in China in September of 2019. Canada's men's team hasn't made a World Cup appearance since 2010, and hasn't played in an Olympics since 2000.