After losing 89-67 to Spain and bowing out of the world basketball championship without a win in five games, the twin pillars of Canada's future were in a positive mood.
Sitting on press-room chairs like students in a classroom, Kelly Olynyk of Kamloops and Robert Sacre of Vancouver, both of whom play at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., were sharing notes about some of the lessons learned from failure.
"You can't fear anyone," Olynyk said Thursday. "You can't come in thinking they're better than you. You have to believe you're going to win. We didn't always have that. We got a little star-struck at the start of the tournament. But we shouldn't because we're just as good as them."
"The key is having more professionalism," said Sacre, who scored eight points on 3-of-6 shooting and fired up his teammates with his intensity and hollering, "coming in and taking it to a level where it's like you just have a job."
In a game where Canada trailed 12-2 and never seriously challenged the reigning world and European champions, teachers were everywhere.
Memphis Grizzlies centre Marc Gasol, who had nine rebounds, and Portland Trail Blazers swingman Rudy Fernandez, who had 19 points, taught the younger Canadians something about the hyperspeed and relentless physicality of the game at the world level.
Even unsung players such as Fran Vazquez, who hit all nine of his shots for 19 points, punished the Canadians for gambling on defence as Spain outrebounded Canada 49-28. Spain's slippery guards, Ricky Rubio and Sergio Llull, had a total of 22 assists compared to seven for Canada. Even without its best shooter, Juan Carlos Navarro, Spain outshot Canada 52 per cent to 31 per cent from the field.
"It was a very good defensive game for us," Spain's coach, Sergio Scariolo, said. "We kept their two-point shooting percentage very low. We gave them trouble to finish their set offence when they couldn't run. We gave the court to a lot of players who normally play on the bench."
So did Canada, giving valuable minutes to Carleton University alumni Ryan Bell and Aaron Doornekamp, and Toronto's Jevohn Shepherd, who notched 12 points on 3-of-15 shooting.
"Our team played hard, they worked hard," said Canada's coach, Leo Rautins, whose son Andy returned home Tuesday night to nurse a knee injury ahead of a rookie season with the New York Knicks.
"It's a difficult game to play when you have lost four and have to play against one of the top teams in the world," Rautins added. "I think everybody gave everything they had."
"This game was mentally tough for us to come into knowing we lost some games that we could have won," said Canadian captain Jermaine Anderson, who had eight points. "We all need to get better as individuals. We have a lot of young guys who played in their first international tournament, as well as myself. We have to come together next summer and hopefully we can correct our mistakes."
Anderson said Canada lost for a number of reasons, especially lack of playing time at the world level.
"Maybe our inexperience kind of hurt us," he said. "We lost most of our games late in the fourth quarter. We are probably one of the youngest teams, and it showed at times. At a tournament like this, you have to play at a high level for 40 minutes, each and every person, every night. Unfortunately, that cost us."
Relieved to advance to the second round after losses to France and Lithuania, Scariolo gave hope to Canadians.
"I have very good friends who tell me that the Canadian federation took a good way, but like any good way, you are not going to get to the point you want in two days or one month," he said. "Just keep working. Having players together more will really help to build the team. [Now you have]some players in college, some players in the NBA, some in Europe. They will need more time to play together. This time [Canada]lost all their games, but they could have won a couple of them. I think they are on the right way, it just takes time."
Special to The Globe and Mail
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