Canada's summer of basketball is about to tip off
Men's, women's, wheelchair national teams set their sights on Tokyo
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A big summer for Canadian basketball starts now
On Saturday in Puerto Rico, the Canadian women's basketball team plays its opening game at the FIBA Women's AmeriCup. With the Olympics only six weeks away, Canada is approaching the 10-team tournament as a much-needed tuneup. Before a training camp in Tampa last month, the team hadn't gathered in person for more than a year — much less faced live international competition.
Canada's three WNBA players — Kia Nurse, Bridget Carleton and Natalie Achonwa — didn't make the trip to Puerto Rico. Their league breaks for the Olympics, but not the AmeriCup. On the plus side, their absence offers others a chance to cement their spot on the roster for Tokyo. That includes Aaliyah Edwards, who as a freshman averaged 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in the NCAA tournament last spring to help powerhouse UConn to the Final Four.
While Olympic prep is the main focus right now, there are stakes at the AmeriCup. The top four teams win a spot in the Women's Basketball World Cup qualifying tournaments in February. The top three from each of those four tournaments get to play in the World Cup in the fall of 2022 in Australia.
A good result at the AmeriCup could also help the Canadian women's team build momentum for Tokyo, where it should contend for its first Olympic medal. Canada is ranked fourth in the world and will face No. 3 Spain, No. 8 Serbia and No. 19 Korea in the group stage, starting July 26. The top two teams in each of the three groups, plus the two best third-place teams, qualify for the quarter-finals. The United States, which has won 49 consecutive games in the Olympics, is heavily favoured to win its seventh gold in a row.
It's going to be a busy and exciting summer for Canadian basketball. The men's national team also has the look of an Olympic medal contender — if it can qualify. That'll be settled June 29-July 4 in Victoria, where Canada and five other countries — Greece, China, Uruguay, Turkey and the Czech Republic — will battle for one Olympic spot at their last-chance qualifying tournament. Fourteen of the 21 Canadian players who have committed to the qualifier play in the NBA. They're all eliminated from the playoffs, and so is head coach Nick Nurse, so availability shouldn't be an issue. The other teams in the qualifier are light on NBA talent. Greece could have two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he's still playing in the second round for Milwaukee and might not be up for national-team duty after a long and compressed season.
Canada will also have teams in the men's and women's wheelchair basketball tournaments at the Tokyo Paralympic Games this summer. In 2016, the Canadian women went 3-1 in the group stage before losing to the Netherlands in the quarter-finals, while the men went 0-5 in group play and did not advance. But both teams have great histories. In the four Summer Paralympics from 2000-2012, the men won three gold medals and a silver. The women won three consecutive gold medals in 1992, '96 and 2000, and bronze '04.
Read more about the AmeriCup and the Canadian women's team's outlook in this story by CBC Sports' Myles Dichter.
Canada's Moh Ahmed boosted his Olympic track medal hopes. The 2019 world-championship bronze medallist in the 5,000 metres placed third in an Olympic-calibre Diamond League race yesterday in Italy. His time of 12 minutes, 50.12 seconds put him just behind winner Jakob Ingebrigsten of Norway, who ran a European-record 12:48.45, and Ethiopia's Hagos Gebrhiwet, the 2016 Olympic bronze medallist. Ahmed beat 5,000m world-record holder (and reigning 10,000m world champ) Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda, who finished sixth. Canadian Justyn Knight also topped Cheptegei, placing fifth in a personal-best 12:51.93. Meanwhile, in Oregon, Canada's Camryn Rogers showed she might be able to push for the Olympic hammer throw podium. She won her second consecutive NCAA title and broke the U.S. collegiate women's record twice in the process. Rogers' final toss (75.52 metres) was the fourth-best throw in the world this year. Read more about her performance here, and more about Ahmed and Knight in the Diamond League 5,000m here.
Canadian figure skater Kaitlyn Weaver publicly came out as queer. The 32-year-old has enjoyed a successful career, winning silver at the 2014 world championships with ice-dance partner Andrew Poje, along with bronze medals in '15 and '18. They've also won a pair of Grand Prix Final titles, three Canadian championships and competed in two Olympics together. But Weaver never felt safe revealing her full identity, fearing it could impact her and Poje's scores in a sport where judgement is part of the game. "It really weighed on my mental health to hide consistently a part of who I am," Weaver says. But now, "I've reached the point of not wanting to pretend anymore." Read more about Weaver and her decision to come out in this story by CBC Sports' Devin Heroux.
The Stanley Cup semifinals are set. Vegas completed a stunning comeback from down two games to none to Cup-favourite Colorado, eliminating the Avalanche with a 6-3 win in Game 6 of their second-round series last night. The Golden Knights will face the Cinderella Montreal Canadiens starting Monday night at 9 p.m. ET. The other semi, between the defending-champion Tampa Bay Lightning and the surprising New York Islanders, opens Sunday at 3 p.m. ET. You can watch both series on the CBC TV network, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app. For more on the Habs, who are representing the all-Canadian North Division, watch this video conversation between CBC Sports' Rob Pizzo and the Athletic's Montreal reporter Arpon Basu.
Two 12-year-olds qualified for Olympic skateboarding. So did a guy who's old enough to be their dad. Britain's Sky Brown and Japan's Kokona Hiraki were both among the 80 skateboarding qualifiers announced this week for Tokyo, where the sport will make its Olympic debut. They're legit contenders too: Brown is ranked third in the world in the women's park discipline, and Hiraki is sixth. Joining them in Tokyo will be 46-year-old Danish skater Rune Glifberg, who competed at the first X Games back in 1995. If Brown or Hiraki win a medal, they wouldn't be the youngest to do so in Olympic history. That honour belongs to either a Greek gymnast named Dimitrios Loundras, who was 10 when he won a bronze in the team parallel bars event at the 1896 Games, or the unknown rowing boy. At the 1900 Olympics in Paris, a Dutch team decided before the pairs final to ditch its regular coxswain (the person who steers the boat) for a lighter local kid. They won gold, and the coxswain is considered part of the team, but nobody thought to record the boy's name or how old he was. Estimates, based on a grainy photograph, range from seven to 12. See the photo and read more about the youngest Olympians here.
This weekend on CBC Sports
Here's what you can live stream and watch on TV:
Judo world championships: Watch the final two days of competition live Saturday from 4 a.m. ET to 12:30 p.m ET and Sunday from 4 a.m. ET to 1 p.m. ET here.
Volleyball: Watch the Canadian women's team play two Nations League matches — Saturday at 11:45 a.m. ET vs. Serbia and Sunday at 10:15 a.m. ET vs Russia — here.
Road to the Olympic Games: This week's show features Nations League volleyball and the Diamond League track and field meet in Florence. Watch it from noon to 6 p.m. ET on the CBC TV network, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.
You're up to speed. Have a good weekend.