Canada's men's basketball team has an "outside shot" at a medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics if the squad can overcome a challenging qualification tournament this summer, according to general manager Steve Nash.
Nash was in Vancouver on Tuesday and spoke about the prospects for the men's team, which will use the Pan American Games in Toronto in July as a warm-up for the FIBA Americas tournament in Mexico in late August and early September.
The two finalists in Mexico win berths in the Olympic tournament. Brazil and the United States are already qualified, so Canada, with a promising roster of young players, has a solid chance to make it.
But the Canadians do not have experience as a team, nor much top-level international experience. It's the opposite of rivals Argentina, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Dominican Republic – all four are ranked higher internationally than Canada.
"It's 50-50," Nash said to reporters of Canada's chances in Mexico.
He was named general manager of Canada Basketball's men's team in 2012, as a surge of young talent emerged, led by Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph and Andrew Wiggins.
"You look at the roster, and the potential of the roster, and you say this is an amazing team," Nash said. "I expect us to qualify, but at the same time I'm not naive. This is going to be a really difficult summer for us. The only reason that I'm excited and confident is because of the amount of talent we have."
If Canada can crack through to Rio, Nash said in a radio interview Tuesday that the country has an "outside shot" at a medal in Rio, a "dark horse" in the 12-team Olympic tournament. Nash said the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo are Canada's more likely moment to shine, when the players are in their prime. Wiggins, this season's likely NBA rookie of the year, turned 20 last week and will be 25 by the time the Tokyo Games hit.
Nash, meanwhile, turned 41 a month ago. On Tuesday, his day started with a fundraising breakfast for Simon Fraser University sports, and then late in the morning he trained with the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Major League Soccer team of which he is a co-owner. In the evening, he was honoured by the Vancouver Canucks for his 18-season basketball career.
Nash is still officially on the Los Angeles Lakers' roster and payroll, so his retirement from basketball remains unofficial. "It's probably the worst-kept secret, but I'm not quite ready to announce it yet," he said at the SFU breakfast. Nash, hampered by injuries including a bad back, effectively retired last October. He played 15 games in 2013-14 and none this season. He spent 18 months trying to rehabilitate himself, but found that if he played one night at NBA pace, he would be sidelined a month.
"It's difficult to face up to," Nash said at the SFU breakfast. "I had to make a decision and I realized I just couldn't do it any more. I did everything I could do. So, I do feel a sense of calm about it and acceptance."
As Basketball Canada's GM, his off-floor challenge will be choosing the roster. Team leaders Thompson and Joseph have expiring NBA rookie contracts, and if they don't quickly sign new deals, they would be risking a lot if they got injured playing for the national team. It "could make it tricky," Nash said. "They both want to play and I expect they'll both be there."
The team has depth it did not have 15 years ago, when Canada's men, led by Nash, one of two NBA players on that team, previously played at the Olympics. He expected there'll be more NBA players if Canada qualifies in 2016.
"Over all, we'll have a great turnout," Nash said. "We have enough guys right now that we can put a really good team on the floor regardless if we get every single guy or not."