Jamal Murray won't just be sitting on the bench soaking up the experience as the youngest member of Canada's men's basketball team at the Pan American Games.
Head coach Jay Triano said Monday that the 18-year-old from Kitchener, Ont., who has committed to attend the University of Kentucky in the fall, will play a significant role at point guard in his first real experience playing against men.
Canada's 12-man Pan Am roster has a dynamic mix of veterans and youngsters. It doesn't include NBA stars such Andrew Wiggins and Tristan Thompson, whose teams are limiting their off-season play. But there are three players from NBA rosters, most notably 2013 first-overall Cleveland Cavaliers draft pick Anthony Bennett, now playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Pan Am team also includes six players from European pro leagues, two U.S. college players and Murray, predicted to be the country's next household name in the sport.
Unlike most Canadian stars, Murray stayed at home for his entire high school career, first at Kitchener's Grand River Collegiate Institute and then at Orangeville's Athlete Institute. He first represented Canada at the 2013 FIBA Americas U-16 Championship, where he helped lead the way to a bronze medal.
Also in 2013, he was named MVP at the esteemed Jordan Brand Classic, and posted two head-turning results this spring: a 30-point showing at the Nike Hoops Summit, and a 29-point, 10-assist, eight-rebound night in the BioSteel All-Canadian Game.
"We're introducing Jamal Murray to the senior national team here, and while he's had a great career, we have to remember he hasn't played an NCAA game yet," Triano said. "He's picked up things very well – he's going to get minutes and play a big role for us."
Triano said Murray will share time at the point position with Team Canada veteran Junior Cadougan, who currently plays in Italy.
For its pre-Games news conference on Monday, the team didn't make youngsters such as Murray or University of Oregon standout Dillon Brooks available for interview. They let veterans Aaron Doornekamp and Andrew Nicholson do the talking.
"For those who have seen Jamal play, he can really go. You might notice his youth because he doesn't look as old as [veteran Carl English] and I, but outside of that, the kid can really play," said 29-year-old forward Doornekamp, who plays in Germany. "It doesn't matter how old you are. He's here for a reason. He's good, and he's going to help our team."
Canada tips off its Pan Am Games campaign on Tuesday night against the Dominican Republic at Ryerson University's Mattamy Athletic Centre. Also in Canada's pool are Mexico and Argentina. A fourth-place finish in 1983 in Caracas is the closest Canadian men have ever come to a basketball medal at the Pan Am Games.
Puerto Rico won the last Pan Am gold medal, while Mexico took silver and the United States got bronze. Canada lost two of its three preliminary-round games at the 2011 Pan Ams in Guadalajara, and then lost the fifth-place game to Brazil 74-56.
In the most current FIBA world rankings, Canada is 25th. This tournament will serve as a warmup of sorts before Canada heads to the FIBA Americas Championship in Mexico City next month, the qualifier for the 2016 Rio Olympics, where it is likely to have more NBA stars on the roster.
"It doesn't matter who is here, it's that we're here to win and buying in to what coach wants, buying into a system," Doornekamp said.
"We'll play hard on defence, we'll play for each other, cutting out the name on the back of the jersey and playing for the name on the front."
Countries are sorted by most gold medals