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Canada's head coach Leo Rautins shouts directions for his team as they met France during their FIBA Basketball World Championship game in Izmir August 31, 2010. REUTERS/Sergio Perez (SERGIO PEREZ)
Canada's head coach Leo Rautins shouts directions for his team as they met France during their FIBA Basketball World Championship game in Izmir August 31, 2010. REUTERS/Sergio Perez (SERGIO PEREZ)

Michael Grange

Is it all his fault? Add to ...

In the one step forward, two steps back habit of basketball in Canada, the first men's national team to make it to the world championships in eight years is very likely to return home without a win.

The Canadians fell to 0-4 on Wednesday, after perhaps their most uninspired effort in a 71-61 loss to New Zealand (the surprise team of the tournament, it should be noted). They finish out group play Thursday in Turkey against powerhouse Spain, who are having its own struggles, but should have little problem swatting an overmatched Canadian team.

Canada blew three second-half leads leading up to Wednesday, missing golden chances to assert itself against Lebanon and upset Lithuania and France in a tournament in which two wins would have likely meant advancement to the round of 16 - a reasonable high-water mark.

Gifting away hard-earned leads and boneheaded moments like the final sequence Wednesday when Canada turned a fast-break basket into a turnover and then let 30 seconds burn off the clock before intentionally fouling make blaming head coach Leo Rautins easy.

But blaming the stumbles at the world tournament on coaching is like blaming a three-legged dog for failing to hunt.

In time - if what promises to be a bumper crop of young Canadian basketball talent matures as projected and commits to the national team as hoped - these years between the Steve Nash-led highs of a decade ago, and whatever feats may yet come, will be understood as a dark decade where Canada Basketball badly lost the plot just as the world was taking the ball and running with it.

We've been in catch-up mode since.

Coaching? Rautins is a mildly polarizing figure because he got the job without a coaching background (he was a first-round pick in the 1983 NBA draft), but he's worked it; added competent assistants and can now be considered at least as experienced as Toronto Raptors coach Jay Triano was when he was made national team boss in 1998.

Triano had Nash, which helped make him a pretty good coach pretty quickly; Rautins's most-accomplished player, Joel Anthony, is a hard-working but marginal NBA big man in no danger of drawing a double-team.

Canada's Joel Anthony (L) and France Alain Koffi battle for a rebound in the second half of their FIBA Basketball World Championship game in Izmir August 31, 2010. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Of the Canadian squad in Turkey this week, its best player, Andy Rautins, is a second-round NBA pick who has a bad knee; Kelly Olynyk, 19, has all kinds of promise but has averaged more minutes for Canada (13.5) at the world championship than he did for Gonzaga University as a freshman last year; Jevohn Shepherd and Levon Kendall were counted on to make plays down the stretch, a tall order for two players who averaged 8.3 points combined as seniors playing Division 1 U.S. college basketball and have yet to make an impact as pros; Jermaine Anderson is tough and committed, but only if he's your back-up point guard, your team might be okay.

You could argue Canada was brilliantly coached in that they took a weak roster and patched it over with an aggressive, hands-in-the-lane defensive approach that almost worked until the games got tight and talent won over.

There are countless reason for Canada's squandered hardcourt decade, but better to focus on what could be a bountiful future. Never before have so many Canadian teenagers gained recognition as elite talent with legitimate NBA prospects - among them Myck Kabongo, Cory Joseph, Tristan Thompson and Kyle Wiltjer - worthy of the U.S.-driven media hype they've been given.

Rautins's biggest mistake might have been not bringing more of them over for some baptism-by-fire treatment.

But thanks to the restructuring by outgoing Canada Basketball director Wayne Parrish, more young players are gaining more international experience at younger ages than before. The organization's traditionally wonky finances are finally in order, suggesting that should continue.

Will Bell Canada - which signed on as a much-needed national team sponsor just last month - get value by helping the men's team qualify for 2012 London Olympic Games? Only if the federal government recognizes NBA player Matt Bonner's citizenship application and Nash decides one last selfless hero turn would boost his brand image at home more than any number of his media or charity side projects combined.

After that, it will be up to the kids; a group most people outside of basketball circles have never heard of.

You can only hope that one day - the 2016 Olympics? The 2018 worlds? - Canada will be able to make a layup on the global stage and play a meaningful game at a meaningful event.

But guess what, if it does make a splash and put a licking on Lebanon and blow the doors off New Zealand, it won't be because of coaching then either.

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