Basketball

Canada's men's basketball team forced to hail taxi cabs

The Canadian men's basketball team is ready to roll at the Pan American Games, but its bus was not on Monday.

Bus breaks down after practice; Canadians begin play Tuesday vs. Dominican Republic

Team Canada's men's basketball team was forced to hail taxi cabs after their bus broke down at the Pan Am Games on Monday. ((Neil Davidson/CP Images))

The Canadian men's basketball team is ready to roll at the Pan American Games. Its bus was not Monday.

Unfazed upon learning their bus had broken down en route after practice, the players hailed cabs.

That led to the sight of seven-foot-five Sim Bhullar folding himself into the front seat of a taxi across the street from the Mattamy Athletic Centre. The big man from the Sacramento Kings did it with surprising grace.

The 360-pounder broke a backboard last week. But the taxi survived.

A truer test awaits Tuesday when Canada, ranked 25th in the world, opens its Pan Am campaign against the 20th-ranked Dominican Republic in Pool B. Games against No. 3 Argentina and No. 19 Mexico follow.

At No. 27, Venezuela is the only team ranked lower than Canada in the eight-team field.

The rankings, however, don't mean as much at these Games because many teams aren't fielding their top players.

With semifinals Friday and medal matches Saturday, successful teams could face five games in as many days.

Canada's team here is a mixture of experience and youth with some marquee talent unavailable because of the NBA summer league or contract issues.

"I think we're going to be pretty tough to deal with ," said forward Aaron Doornekamp. "The thing the program's trying to do is it doesn't matter who's here, it's that we're here to win. We're buying into what coach (Jay Triano) wants, we're buying into a system.

"It doesn't matter who's involved in the system, we play the same way and we play hard on defence. If we respect the process, we'll get the outcomes we want."

Andrew Wiggins of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Tristan Thompson of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Kelly Olynyk of the Boston Celtics and Cory Joseph of the Toronto Raptors are all missing. The hope is to have them in the fold for the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament in early September.

Anthony Bennett, Andrew Nicholson and Bhullar are the only three players with NBA experience, with Bhullar seeing limited time.

There are national team veterans like Carl English, and rising young stars such as 18-year-old Jamal Murray, who is headed to the University of Kentucky.

"We've got a unique roster," said Triano.

The Canadian coach acknowledged that tough challenges lie ahead, with few surprises given the familiarity between teams who meet regularly in regional qualifying tournaments.

"It's a tough pool for us," Triano said. "But it's a great honour to be able to play those teams in our own country for a change. Usually we're travelling around the world playing against them or at least in South and Central America."

Still he said he had spoken to his players about not falling prey to the distractions of playing at home

Triano said Canada may play point guard by committee. Junior Cadougan will likely start with Murray getting plenty of minutes. Brady Heslip, shifting from shooting guard, will also see action there

The coach spoke highly of Murray while reminding listeners that he has yet to play an NCAA game.

"He's picked up things very well. He's going to get minutes, he's going to play quite a bit. He's going to play a big role for us."

"We're not concerned about the point guard spot that much right now, except trying to figure out how Jamal, who I have a lot of confidence in, will react to playing against men," he added.

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