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Canada's Carl English and head coach Leo Rautins react in the closing minutes of their game with Puerto Rico in the FIBA Americas regional qualifying basketball tournament in Las Vegas. (LUCY NICHOLSON/Reuters)
Canada's Carl English and head coach Leo Rautins react in the closing minutes of their game with Puerto Rico in the FIBA Americas regional qualifying basketball tournament in Las Vegas. (LUCY NICHOLSON/Reuters)

Canada's strong year on the hardcourt Add to ...

At a recent meeting with Nike representatives, Wayne Parrish dropped a key piece of information into the conversation.

The head of Canada Basketball happened to mention that Canada was one of just six countries in the world to qualify for all four world championships for 2010.

That was all Nike needed to hear. Sponsorship deal done.

In a country that prides itself on its prowess on ice and snow, Canada shone on the hardcourt in 2009, and now heads into 2010 buoyed with a sense of optimism that hasn't been felt around the national program in years.

"Certainly the fallout of the summer has been tremendously positive, and there's been a number of different ways in which you just get a vibration that things are on the upswing," Parrish, Canada Basketball's CEO and executive director, said in a phone interview. "There just seems to be a very good vibe through the whole thing."

The senior men's and women's squads and both cadet (under-16) squads took the court this past summer, earning berths in their respective world championships. They join an illustrious group that includes Spain, Australia, Argentina, the U.S. and China as the only countries in the world that qualified for all four of next summer's world tournaments.

"What's nice is that the optimism is coming from a lot of different places," said Canadian men's coach Leo Rautins. "Here at home there's a lot of optimism, globally I think a lot of people are recognizing there's something really good happening here, even sponsors are seeing the talent we have across the board.

"I think there's a realization that if we do the right things with that talent early on, we're going to have an opportunity to be really good."

Parrish was hired about two years ago, walking into a national program, Rautins said, that was in organizational and financial shambles.

"He came into the program at a very difficult time, from a financial and from a perception view," Rautins said. "I kind of look at like a lot of people look at (U.S. President Barack) Obama. . . he's in such a hole to begin with because he's in cleanup mode the first two years of his tenure, and you look at Wayne coming into Canada Basketball, I think it was kind of similar. His impact has been huge, he's kind of like an unsung hero."

Parrish signed a four-year sponsorship deal with Nike, made possible not just because of teams' play on the court, but the program's image off it.

According to Canadian women's team coach Allison McNeill, Parrish's biggest accomplishments might have been bringing together a splintered national organization, and encouraging former players and coaches to become involved in the program - through the Council of Excellence advisory committee, whose membership reads like a who's who of Canada's brightest basketball minds: Steve Nash, Kathy and Ken Shields, Toronto Raptors senior vice-president Maurizio Gherardini, among others.

"Wayne has been building bridges, he's done a great job of trying to get to know people all across the country, and connecting with people who are part of our history," McNeill said. "I'm big on history and tradition, and that's something that Wayne's done is bring people back into the fold."

The one setback to Canada Basketball in 2009 is the loss of the National Elite Development Association (NEDA). The program, which brought the top Canadian high school players together in Hamilton, Ont., to live and train, was cancelled after Canada Basketball took a $500,000 blow to its budget when it lost its funding from the Own the Podium funding program.

Parrish has argued that OTP's focus on producing Olympic medals in volumes penalizes team sports, and he was a key force behind the forming of Canadian Team Sports Coalition (CTSC) earlier this month.

"Losing funding for the NEDA program was a real catalyst in making it clear to everyone here how this enduring situation had to be changed," Parrish said. "I believe what we will achieve in the next few years is an even more efficient and better form of NEDA. Sometimes you have to fall back a step in order to make two forward."

The Canadian men's team will play at the world championships this summer in Turkey, its first appearance in the global tournament since the team finished 13th in 2002. The men haven't played in the Olympics since 2000.

The women make their second consecutive world championship appearance in September in the Czech Republic. The women also haven't played in the Olympics since Sydney.

The cadet teams will play in the inaugural under-17 world championships in 2010.

 

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