As the senior men's national team went through its paces at the Richmond Olympic Oval on Monday, a call came in that sent Canada Basketball managing director Maurizio Gherardini scrambling for his BlackBerry.
Alas, it was not the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration or the Eureka call that would allow NBA player Matt Bonner to play for Canada at the FIBA world championships later this month. The New Hampshire-raised Bonner, a former Toronto Raptor, is trying to become a Canadian citizen before the tournament starts on Aug. 28 in Istanbul, Turkey.
"We've tried all that we could so far, we just hope that people realize that there's not too much time left, and that he would be unbelievable piece to add to this team," said Gherardini, an Italian who also serves as the Raptors assistant general manager. "Matt is committed. Someone else, at this stage, probably would've given up."
According to a source, Bonner's application was already rejected on what he and Canada Basketball felt were dubious grounds. Puzzled by the decision, Bonner and Canada Basketball resubmitted an application, but that disappointment cost them two months of paperwork, and if it's not approved by Aug. 26 - 48 hours before the tournaments starts - he will not be eligible to wear the Maple Leaf.
The gregarious 30-year-old, nicknamed "the Red Rocket" for his bright red mane, has Canadian heritage on both sides of his family, married a Canadian woman and lives in Toronto when he's not visiting Montreal's music scene or playing for the NBA's San Antonio Spurs. He has said he is not applying for citizenship solely to play basketball, but also because his loves his adopted homeland.
"You're talking about a guy who feels very Canadian," Gherardini said.
Bonner has been spending time with the Canadian team, but can't practise until his citizenship is cleared. He would give Canada a second NBA player on the front line, alongside centre Joel Anthony of the Miami Heat, and create matchup problems with his 6-foot-10 frame and outside shooting.
Head coach Leo Rautins is hoping for a last-second miracle, much like what happened three years ago when NBA centre Samuel Dalembert was granted citizenship shortly before the Olympic qualifying tournament. (Dalembert has since had a falling out with Rautins and no longer plays for the national side).
While Bonner sits and stews, four B.C. players are frothing at the mouth to play China at Vancouver's Rogers Arena on Tuesday, the first of three exhibitions on Canadian soil.
The national team hasn't visited Vancouver since 2002, meaning all four British Columbians are making their home-province debuts. Levon Kendall, a veteran of the national team, hasn't played a competitive game in B.C. since 2002, when he attended Kitsilano Secondary School.
"It's huge," said Kendall, who plays professionally in Greece. "I'm super excited. I actually just had my first dream about it on the flight over this morning. I'm trying to keep it out of my mind as much as possible, but I'm expecting all my friends and family to come out."
Centre Robert Sacré and point guard Tyler Kepkay, both products of Handsworth Secondary School in North Vancouver, haven't played at home since 2007 and 2005, respectively. Kamloops's Kelly Olynyk, who plays with Sacré at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, is also on Canada's 14-man roster.
It has been so long that Sacré kept calling the arena "GM Place," and had to be told that the facility has been renamed Rogers Arena. Either way, he hasn't visited the building in eight years.Report Typo/Error