Jay Triano has witnessed first-hand how the United States men’s basketball team changed from underachievers to back-to-back Olympic gold medals.
He believes the same approach will lead Canada to it’s first Olympic berth since 2000, and he expects his players to buy in for the long haul.
Just two weeks after the London Olympics closed, Triano and his coaching staff were putting a promising roster of players through shooting drills Monday at the end of a five-day training camp designed to prepare Canada for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.
Triano, just days into his second stint as national team head coach, expects players at the camp to commit to the national team for four years, saying the long-term pledge is essential to getting Canada back on basketball’s world stage. Triano was an assistant coach on the U.S. national team when it went from a star-studded but underachieving group that settled for an Olympic bronze medal in 2004 to a cohesive, powerful squad.
“I think gone are the days when you can throw 12 players out there and expect to compete, and I think my time with the United States team showed that,” Triano said. “Jerry Colangelo asked those players for a three-year commitment. When they did that and the players became committed, that’s when they became successful and won back-to-back gold medals.”
Canada hasn’t always been able to field its best possible team in Olympic competition. Star guard Steve Nash, now the team’s general manager, stopped playing for Canada after it failed to qualify for the 2004 Olympics and focused on his NBA career. Centre Jamaal Magloire, who has been working with the big men at the camp, opted not to play during the height of his career. Centre Samuel Dalembert was dismissed from the team after a rift with former coach Leo Rautins.
This recent camp shows Canada may have turned a corner as far as getting its best players out. NBA regulars Joel Anthony and Tristan Thompson were among those taking part, along with up-and-comers Kris Joseph, Cory Joseph and Andrew Nicholson.
Recent Los Angeles Lakers draft pick Robert Sacre was there along with former Gonzaga teammates Kevin Pangos and Kelly Olynyk. And top prospect Tyler Ennis flew in from an elite high school basketball showcase in Los Angeles to take part on the last day of the camp.
“If we’re going to be successful guys are going to commit,” Triano said. “The fact that they’re here working as hard as they are right now speaks volumes to their commitment. We’re going to have to decide as a staff which players we want to move forward and be part of our commitment to the program.”
In order to build for Rio, Nash and Triano hope to involve young players like Ennis early and get them used to spending their summers working with the national team.
“I’m definitely committed,” said Ennis, who accepted a basketball scholarship offer from Syracuse earlier this month. “I have a lot to learn from these guys. A lot of guys have more experience than I do, but being able to learn from them from now until it’s time to play in the Olympics, I think I’ll be ready by then.”
The extra effort Ennis made to attend the end of camp was not lost on Triano.
“That’s a committed player right there,” he said. “To come in from L.A. and be a part of this, it’s exciting. Them being here now in a summer where there’s no competition shows a huge sign of commitment.”
Although Canada wasn’t involved in Olympic basketball competition this summer, getting almost 30 players together wasn’t easy. Players like Sacre were involved in the NBA’s summer league and will be leaving for training camp next month, allowing just a small window to attend the national team’s camp.
“I don’t even know where I live any more,” Sacre said. “I basically live out of a backpack and a suitcase and I go from there.”
But Sacre, who played college basketball on a team boasting a few Canadians, said he felt that coming to the camp and committing to the national team allowed him to be part of something special.
“I wanted to do this to get better and also represent my country,” he said. “I talked to Jamaal Magloire and he felt there was a different chemistry and a different vibe, and I felt that as well. A lot of guys are looking at this as an opportunity to be a part of something special, and it’s great to see that.”