Canadian men's basketball team in tough at Pan Am Games
Canada faces Dominican Republic, Argentina and Mexico in preliminary action
Canada is waiting to see which players will make up the men's basketball roster for the Pan Am Games, and so are its opponents.
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NBA players Anthony Bennett and Andrew Nicholson, and Orangeville, Ont. prep star Jamal Murray are some of the players attending a try-out camp that will determine who will go for gold in one of the most anticipated events of the Pan Am Games. All three will likely make up three of the final 12-man roster.
News also broke that Baylor University alum Brady Heslip has joined the try-outs as of Wednesday. The Burlington, Ont., shooting guard has returned after playing with the Minnesota Timberwolves at the NBA Summer League in the U.S.
Team Canada will confirm its roster on Saturday. All basketball games will take place at the Ryerson Athletic Centre.
Canada, which ranks 25th in the world by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), will play three southern neighbours in the preliminary round: Dominican Republic, Argentina and Mexico.
Canada begins its round-robin play against the Dominican Republic next Tuesday, in a game that will be streamed on CBCSports.ca at 6 p.m. ET.
The tournament should be an exciting event for fans, though the competition won't be easy for Canada.
The Caribbean nation has seen greater success in international play, ranking five spots higher than Canada.
University of Kentucky coach John Calipari, who will coach Murray in September, served as the head coach of the Dominican squad when they placed third in the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship, and fourth in the 2012 FIBA World Olympic qualifying tournament.
Canada placed sixth in the same 2011 competition and didn't compete in the 2012 qualifiers.
As for the last Pan Am Games in 2011, the Dominican Republic came in fourth, while Canada came in sixth. Between the two, the Dominicans are the only unit to have earned a medal in this event, placing second in the 2007 Games.
The Dominican roster includes veteran shooting guard Francisco Garcia, who has played for the NBA's Sacramento Kings and Houston Rockets. Rigoberto Mendoza is another notable player, who is the current points leader for the country's professional league.
At the helm of the ship is coach Orlando Antigua, current head coach at the University of South Florida and former assistant of Calipari.
If there's one Canadian game that you want to catch during the preliminaries, it's the one against the Argentines on Wednesday (CBCSports.ca, 6 p.m. ET)
Argentina is the only country in the FIBA Americas zone to win five titles — a Pan Am gold medal, an Olympic gold medal, a FIBA World Championship, a FIBA Diamond Ball Championship, and two FIBA Americas Championships.
Most recently, the South American nation received bronze in the 2013 edition of the FIBA Americas. And ranking third in the world, the team is a strong contender for gold in Toronto.
Ironically, it may be the first time that power forward Luis Scola is seen Canadian court side since being acquired by the Toronto Raptors. Scola was practising with the team prior to its arrival in Toronto with rumours that he may take part in the Games, acording to Argentine media.
Marcos Mata, Selem Safar and Facundo Campazzo — players from the 2014 FIBA World Cup — are confirmed to be on the team.
Their bench boss is Sergio Hernandez, making his return after coaching Argentina's Diamond Ball gold medal and Olympic bronze medal teams in 2008.
Canada's third preliminary matchup is against Mexico next Thursday (CBCSports.ca, 6 p.m. ET). The Mexicans won the last FIBA Americas Championship over Puerto Rico in 2013.
Although both North American nations have not qualified for the last four Olympics, Mexico has a far longer drought when compared to Canada's appearance in 2000. The Mexicans have not competed since 1976 in Montreal.
However, Mexico's recent resurgence has propelled it to No. 19 in the world standings. The Mexicans received a silver medal in the last Pan Am Games at home, beating the U.S. in the semifinals and losing to Puerto Rico in the gold medal contest.
Coach Sergio Valdeolmillos is in charge, previously leading them to Mexico's 2013 FIBA Americas and 2014 FIBA Central American and Caribbean titles.
Orlando Mendez-Valdez, who helped Mexico's win in 2013, is an important part of the Mexican lineup. Mendez-Valdez's golden performance earned the nation a spot in the 2014 FIBA World Cup for the first time in 40 years.
Francisco Cruz, Hector Fernandez, Israel Gutierrez and Adrian Zamora are also on the roster and played in last year's Cup contest.
For all teams mentioned, the Pan Ams will prove to be a preview of the 2015 FIBA Americas Championships in Mexico, where Canada will fight again for a ticket to the 2016 Rio Olympics.