Canadian basketball has a bright future — despite that crushing Olympic qualifier
Talented men's team hasn't peaked yet; women's could medal in Tokyo
This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports' daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what's happening in sports by subscribing here.
After a crushing loss, there's still hope for Canadian basketball
Let's acknowledge this first: the Canadian men's basketball team's inability to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics was a huge failure. Even after some terrible injury luck, everything was set up for Canada to win its last-chance, six-team qualifying tournament in Victoria and claim the one Olympic spot up for grabs. The Canadians had home-court advantage. They had way more NBA players than any other team, including big-time talents Andrew Wiggins and RJ Barrett. They even had the best coach in the Raptors' Nick Nurse.
Despite all those advantages, Canada lost in the semifinals to the Czech Republic — a country that has never produced a truly impactful NBA player and had just one NBAer on its roster (Tomas Satoransky, who averaged 7.7 points this season for a bad Chicago team). The Czechs beat Canada in overtime on Saturday, then went on to trounce Greece in the final last night to earn a ticket to Tokyo.
By the time the Paris Games roll around in 2024, Canada will have gone nearly a quarter century since its last Olympic men's basketball appearance. The young point guard who powered Canada to the quarter-finals in 2000, Steve Nash, will be 50 years old. That's pretty depressing.
And yet, it's still pretty easy to be optimistic about Canadian basketball. Three of the reasons:
1. The men's team's two best players were out with injuries. Young guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jamal Murray both committed to playing in the Olympic qualifier, where they would have formed a formidable starting backcourt. But Murray's season ended in April when he tore an ACL, and Gilgeous-Alexander missed his final 29 games with a foot injury. Their absence forced talented-but-limited players like Wiggins, Barrett, Lu Dort and Nickeil Alexander-Walker to carry more of the load than they should be asked to at this point. Meanwhile, we saw the impact a bona fide NBA star can have on his national team's fortunes yesterday when Luka Doncic racked up 31 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists to lead Slovenia to victory in the final of one of the other Olympic qualifying tournaments.
2. This team hasn't peaked yet. Three years from now, the wave of Canadian talent currently washing over the NBA will be closer to its prime. Murray will be 27. Gilgeous-Alexander, Alexander-Walker and Dort will be 25. Barrett will be only 24. Dillon Brooks and Brandon Clarke, who skipped Victoria after strong seasons for the Memphis Grizzlies, will be 28 and 27, respectively. Even Wiggins will still be on the right side of 30. Assuming these guys are healthy and willing to play, Canada should be a safe bet to qualify for Paris, where it would have a great shot at winning its first Olympic medal since 1936.
3. The Canadian women's team is an Olympic podium contender right now. The only time the women's squad has ever played for an Olympic medal was in 1984 in Los Angeles, where the Communist Bloc boycotted. Its two most recent appearances, in 2012 and '16, ended with quarter-final losses. But the third time might be a charm. Canada heads to Tokyo ranked fourth in the world and should have at least two active WNBA players on its roster in Kia Nurse and Bridget Carleton. It could be three if Natalie Achonwa is recovered from a knee injury in time. Former WNBAers Kim Gaucher, Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe and Kayla Alexander are also on the team. And the newcomers include three college players who helped their teams to the Final Four this year: Aaliyah Edwards, Laeticia Amihere and Shaina Pellington. Canada tips off group-stage play in Tokyo on July 26 vs. eighth-ranked Serbia and will also face South Korea (ranked 19th) and Spain (third). The top two teams in each group, plus the two best third-place teams, advance to the quarter-finals. Read more about the Canadian women's team in this piece by CBC Sports' Myles Dichter. Myles also traces the men's team's roadmap to the 2024 Olympics here.
Canada's Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime both pulled off upsets to reach the Wimbledon quarter-finals. The 10th-seeded Shapovalov bounced No. 8 Roberto Bautista Agut in straight sets, and 16th-seeded Auger-Aliassime later knocked off No. 4 Alexander Zverev in five sets to reach the final eight today. This is the deepest the 20-year-old Auger-Aliassime has ever advanced at a Grand Slam. His next opponent is No. 7-seeded Matteo Berrettini. The 22-year-old Shapovalov, who's into a Grand Slam quarter-final for the second time but first at Wimbledon, will face 25th-seeded Karen Khachanov. Read more about the Canadians' wins and today's other notable Wimbledon results and watch highlights here.
A young goalie with the Columbus Blue Jackets was killed in a fireworks accident. According to a medical examiner, Matiss Kivlenieks died of chest trauma caused by a fireworks mortar blast last night in Michigan. He was 24. Initially, police said Kivlenieks' death was the result of his slipping and hitting his head on concrete as he and several other people fled from a hot tub. Kivlenieks played for his native Latvia at this year's men's world championship. He appeared in a total of eight games for Columbus over the last two seasons, and also played for the Blue Jackets' minor-league affiliate in Cleveland. Read about the reaction to his death here.
The Montreal Canadiens hope to not go quietly. It's been 23 years since the last Stanley Cup final sweep. But the Tampa Bay Lightning can complete one tonight — and win their second straight championship — with another win over Montreal. History is not on the Habs' side. An NHL team has overcome a 3-0 deficit in a playoff series only four times, and it hasn't happened in the final since 1942, when Toronto came back to beat Detroit. To be honest, the present isn't on the Habs' side either. Tampa Bay has outscored them 14-5 in the series and is clearly the better team. Still, it would be surprising if this scrappy and proud Montreal team went down without a fight in front of their home crowd tonight. Read more about how both teams are approaching Game 4 here. Watch it live at 8 p.m. ET on the CBC TV network, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.
And in case you missed it...
A few more things from the weekend that you should know about:
Canada named its track and field team for the Tokyo Olympics. The 57 athletes (33 women, 24 men) hope to top the team's performance in Rio, where it won six medals — its most since 1932. Sprinter Andre De Grasse accounted for half of those, taking silver in the men's 200 metres and bronze in the 100 and 4x100 relay. He'll be trying for the triple again, while Damian Warner remains a strong contender in the decathlon after getting bronze at both the 2016 Olympics and 2019 world championships. Rio men's high jump gold medallist Derek Drouin failed to qualify for Tokyo after suffering multiple major injuries over the last few years, and heptathlon bronze medallist Brianne Theisen-Eaton retired in 2017. There's hope that Melissa Bishop-Nriagu can contend for the podium in the women's 800m after finishing fourth in 2016. Moh Ahmed and Evan Dunfee should be considered medal contenders in the men's 5,000m and men's 50km race walk, respectively, after taking bronze in those events at the most recent world championships. Other interesting athletes on the team include 41-year-old Malindi Elmore, who's back in the Olympics for the first time since 2004 after breaking the national women's marathon record, and sisters Gabriela DeBues-Stafford and Lucia Stafford, who will compete against each other in the 1,500m. Read more about the Canadian team here.
An American sprinter is out for the Olympics after testing positive for marijuana. This story was all the rage on the internet over the weekend, with most reactions falling into one of two buckets: people rushing to the defence of 21-year-old Sha'Carri Richardson, or people making jokes about weed being considered a performance-enhancing drug. It does seem a bit silly — especially when you consider how the drug has gone mainstream in North America. And it's hard to not feel bad for Richardson, who said she just needed help coping with her mother's recent death. But, as Joe Biden chimed in, "rules are rules," and they call for Richardson's 100-metre victory at the U.S. Olympic trials to be erased. That will keep her out of the 100 in Tokyo, though it's possible she could still be named to the American 4x100 relay team. Read more about Richardson's suspension and what her future might hold here.
Athletes will have a little more room to protest at the Olympics. The latest update to the International Olympic Committee's rules governing athlete demonstrations at the Games appears to allow a gesture like the famous raised fists of Black American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlo in 1968 in Mexico City. But it would only be permitted "prior to the start of the competition" (at the start line of a race, say) — not on the podium, where Smith and Carlos did it. Protests also remain prohibited during competition, during the opening and closing ceremonies, and in the athletes' village. Athletes still have "the opportunity to express their views," as the IOC puts it, when speaking to the press and on social media. Read more about the updated protest rules here.
You're up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.