Andrew Wiggins key to Canada's golden age of basketball
Many expect program to be medal contenders for Pan Ams, Rio Olympics & beyond
The potential for the Canadian men's national basketball team to compete on the world stage has never been greater.
However, the same goes for the expectations, which are also at an all-time high.
This new outlook and talk of a golden age of basketball in Canada stems from a remarkable growth in talent over the last decade.
No player highlights Canada's emerging reputation as a hotbed for elite-level talent more than Toronto's Andrew Wiggins, who was selected first overall in the 2014 NBA draft.
"Definitely. That's the plan," says Wiggins, 20, on the topic of Canada becoming a medal threat in international competition.
Due to constraints from the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wiggins will not participate in the Pan Am Games this month, but the reigning NBA rookie of the year will be available for the FIBA Americas tournament in September, where a spot in the 2016 Olympics is up for grabs.
"The Canadian team, I'm looking forward to it," says Wiggins. "It should be fun with all the guys. I've played with a lot of them before. It should be good."
It will be especially good for Canada to have Wiggins on board, after he appeared in all 82 games for the Timberwolves, averaging 16.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game in his debut season.
Another player in the fold will be 22-year-old Anthony Bennett of Toronto.
A year prior to selecting Wiggins at the top of the draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers made Bennett the first Canadian to be taken first overall. Then last summer, both were packaged in a trade to Minnesota.
While Bennett's first two seasons in the NBA have been a struggle to say the least, national team coach Jay Triano believes the power forward is well suited for international play and will have an opportunity to showcase his repertoire in the Pan Am Games and the the qualifying tournament.
"I think Anthony Bennett is about to break through," says Triano on a conference call. "I really have a lot of confidence in him.
"I think he's had a bunch of bad breaks and hopefully the Pan Am Games in his country and in his city are going to be something that will give him confidence to show what he can do and we expect of lot out of him."
Bennett, who will be counted on as one of the leaders, sees a lot of promise in the national program.
More to the point, Bennett knows he and Wiggins aren't alone in the goal of turning Canada into a basketball powerhouse.
Brampton, Ont.,'s Tristan Thompson has won over LeBron James in Cleveland with his heart and hustle, not to mention his ability to score and rebound in double figures. Pickering, Ont., native Cory Joseph, who will play for the Toronto Raptors next season, is a steady hand in the backcourt, while the sky is the limit for University of Kentucky recruit Jamal Murray of Kitchener, Ont.
If all goes well
"We have a lot of talent in Canada, especially upcoming," says Bennett when asked about a golden age for basketball. "We just have to get together in the summer and display all that talent on one team."
Triano remains cautiously optimistic, but if the results are in line with his goal of competing for world and Olympic medals, then we may indeed be entering a golden age for basketball.
"It's not just going to happen because we got a bunch of great basketball players in our country," he says.
"We have to play as a team, we have to understand the international game and become proficient at playing the international game and keep developing our players so that we have the depth of talent in our country."