Canada's men's basketball team has a bounty of promise and one problem: a lack of international experience.
The key FIBA Americas qualifying tournament for the 2016 Summer Olympics Rio de Janeiro is set for Mexico in late August and early September, where the two finalists have their ticket stamped. It would be the Canadian men's first Olympics in 16 years.
So it is a boon for Canada that the Pan Am Games are in July, and in Toronto, home to many of the players expected to play for the team. The Pan Am basketball schedule is out Thursday, with Canada in a group with Argentina, Mexico and Dominican Republic, all teams ranked higher internationally. It will be a significant warm-up for a team likely led by fourth-year NBA pros Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson, as well as the NBA's probable rookie of the year, Andrew Wiggins, all three from the Toronto area.
"It's exactly what we need," said head coach Jay Triano in an interview on Wednesday. "It's not too often we get to play meaningful games in our own country. The timing is perfect. It's going to be a huge help."
The roster remains in flux but the best players such as Wiggins have said they want to play in recent interview with The Globe. Canada Basketball has worked for several years to foster this, led by Steve Nash, general manager of the men's team, Rowan Barrett, assistant GM and executive VP, and Triano.
There could be some roster hiccups in July with NBA Summer League and NBA contracts – but management is confident Canada will be able to field a top-notch squad, and be ready for Mexico.
Players such as Joseph and Thompson, and others such as Kelly Olynyk, already have some senior international experience, whereas Wiggins has only played internationally as a junior. His rookie season in Minnesota, however, has been essential, said Triano. The Timberwolves, the worst team in the NBA, have been waylaid by injuries, which has forced Wiggins to lead. He started relatively slowly but has since surged, scoring at least 20 points a game since late December.
"He's had the responsibility thrust upon him to deliver on a nightly basis," Triano said.