Olympic Basketball. The main event and its preliminary competitions likely aren’t on the radar of most casual Canadian sports fans. Hockey, Figure Skating, Baseball/Softball and Track & Field are the predominately watched amateur and professional sports of recent memory. Other than the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, hoops really takes a backseat to a lot of other viewing options. So unbeknownst to most this summer, is the semi-annual tradition of our Canadian Men’s and Women’s teams competing in the FIBA America’s tournament: the qualification stage for North and South American teams heading to the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Undoubtedly, history has contributed to the current landscape. Our Canadian men’s squads have had some limited success qualifying and competing for the podium. Starting with Silver at the 1936 Berlin games (our only hoops medal), the gents have qualified for nine Olympics including 4th place finishes in 1976 and 1984. However, after a promising start but disappointing finish at the 2000 Sydney Games, the men have been on the outside looking in. The ladies, while qualifying five times since 1976, have had just the one notable success finishing 4th as well at the 1984 Los Angeles games. Not exactly a rich tradition for either.
Fear not sports fans – the golden age of Canadian basketball is about to begin. If they’re not already, Andrew Wiggins and Kia Nurse are on the cusp of becoming household names representing this emerging sport on the national stage. Both Ontario natives, Nurse and Wiggins competed in Ontario high schools and then moved on to US collegiate powerhouses (Kansas and Connecticut respectively) where they excelled among the best and brightest born to our southern neighbor. And while it takes a team effort to compete for the Gold, it often takes that one bonafide, highly visible star to push a whole sport to the front pages.
The results are already starting to show. Earlier this summer with an already qualified Team USA not competing and getting in our way, Nurse led our strong ladies team to an Olympic berth, an undefeated record, and 1st place at the 2015 qualifying tournament held in Edmonton. It was our first FIBA America’s championship in 20 years, the last time we hosted the tournament. A great showing and proof we belong among the top tier of Women’s basketball nations. Tourney highlights!
With 2014 first overall NBA draft pick Andrew Wiggins leading the charge, the guys are also on the verge of accomplishing their goal. While competing at the qualifying tourney currently being played in Mexico City, they’ve broken out to a strong 7-1 start (Highlights of beating rival Puerto Rico) and have assured themselves of making Friday night’s ‘do-or-die’ semi-final round. Win that game, and the team is through to Rio regardless of what happens in Saturday afternoon’s final. Lose the semi-final, and our boys will be sent to a 2nd chance tournament to be held in the late spring against nations from other parts of the globe. In my opinion, with a team this strong they will still have a great chance to qualify.
With the recent emergence of the Raptors and our young Canadian stars propelling our national teams, regardless of Friday’s outcome, it’s an exciting time to be a fan of Canadian hoops. Catch Team Canada’s semi-final match vs Venezuela at 4pm PST on TSN.
Unfortunately, Canada lost their semi-final match vs Venezuela in a pretty big upset. They’ll have to take the long road to Rio at this point! But they did show great poise by still defeating the host Mexican team in the 3rd place game for a bronze medal this time around. Good luck next Spring boys!