The Canadian men’s basketball team may have to get past NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo to get to the Tokyo Olympics.
The good news for Canada is it should have the players to do it.
Canada drew seventh-ranked Greece, plus the Czech Republic, Turkey, China and Uruguay for its last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament June 23-28 in Victoria — the biggest Canadian men’s tournament held on home soil in 25 years. The Canadian men must win to secure their first Olympic appearance since the 2000 Sydney Games.
“Canada’s path is now set,” said Canada Basketball CEO Glen Grunwald. “With several of the top basketball countries in the world set to descend upon Victoria, this tournament will be a tremendous week of basketball.”
The draws for both the men’s and women’s Olympic qualifying tournaments were held Wednesday at FIBA headquarters in Switzerland.
There’s no guarantee Antetokounmpo will suit up for Greece — his Milwaukee Bucks could play deep in the post-season, and the qualifying tournament opens just two days after a potential Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
The draw comes amid a heady 24 hours for Canada’s men’s program. A favourite target of criticism for its absent NBA talent, several key players have committed to playing this summer. Denver Nuggets star Jamal Murray got the momentum rolling when he announced he was all in.
“I want to play my part to help push our team into the Olympics and compete at the highest world stage. Let’s go Canada,” Murray tweeted. Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and New Orleans Pelicans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker added their names to the list a few hours later.
New York Knicks rookie RJ Barrett followed suit Wednesday morning. Dillon Brooks, Dwight Powell and Khem Birch have also said they’ll play, while Kelly Olynyk and Cory Joseph never turn down a national-team invitation.
“Recently we’ve witnessed positive momentum with several players committing to play for Canada this summer, and we expect that trend to continue over the next several months,” said team GM Rowan Barrett.
Missing most of its NBA stars, Canada finished a disappointing 21st at the World Cup this summer. Birch and Joseph were the only NBA players to make the trip to China, from which seven countries earned automatic Olympic berths.
The Canadians are ranked 21st in the world.
Canada is in Pool A with Greece and 27th-ranked China. Pool B has No. 10 Czech Republic, No. 15 Turkey and 43rd-ranked Uruguay. The top two teams of each pool cross over to play the semifinals, the winners of which meet in the finals.
The Canadian women, meanwhile, will face Belgium, Japan and Sweden in their final Olympic qualifying tournament February 6-9 in Ostend, Belgium.
The Canadians, who were recently ranked a career-best fourth in the world, need only finish top three in the four-team tournament to book their spot in the Tokyo Games.
Coach Lisa Thomaidis downplayed Canada’s strong chances, saying her team was drawn into a “tough pool.”
“You should have to beat some great teams to qualify for the Olympics,” Thomaidis said. “(We) will face some good competition with European opponents and a Japanese team that recently beat Australia in the Pre-Qualifiers.”
Host Belgium is ranked ninth in the world, Japan 10th and Sweden 22nd.
The Canadian women were ousted in the quarterfinals in both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2019.