Updating Canada’s projected roster for Manila

With the unfortunate loss due to injury of 7’0″ Kelly Olynyk (recent shoulder surgery/5 months of rehab) and the advance to the NBA Finals by the Cleveland Cavaliers putting the timing of 6’10” Tristan Thompson‘s participation in question, Canada’s projected roster for the Olympic qualifying tournament in Manila in early July – especially at the forward spots – remains in flux.  Going forward, the team is set to assemble in the next couple of weeks to prepare for their first 2 games of the tournament:  Tuesday, July 5th vs. Turkey (6:30 AM Eastern time start) and Wednesday, July 6th vs. Senegal (6:30 AM Eastern time start) – just 5 weeks from tomorrow.  No word yet on whether or not these games will be televised live.

Here is one view of the depth chart that Canada’s coaching staff could be looking at presently (* – denotes potential new addition to last summer’s roster):

Point Guards:  Cory Joseph, Tyler Ennis*,  Phil Scrubb, Kevin Pangos

Shooting Guards: Nik Stauskas, Brady Heslip

Wings:  Andrew Wiggins, Melvin Ejim, Aaron Doornekamp, Dyshawn Pierre*

Bigs:  Tristan Thompson, Trey Lyles*, Anthony Bennett (free agent), Robert Sacre

Among the Unknowns:  Andrew Nicholson (restricted free agent), Dwight Powell (restricted free agent who does have a qualifying offer on the table), Jamal Murray* (NBA Draft eligible on 23rd June 2016), Kyle Wiltjer* (NBA Draft eligible).

Cory Joseph remains as loyal to the Canadian program as any player in recent memory; the Toronto native confirmed his participation in the wake of the Raptors game six loss vs. Cleveland.  Joseph is in fact the only “name” player with meaningful senior team & NBA experience to thus far publicly state his commitment to Coach Jay Triano‘s side for this summer.  When queried last month regarding his participation, 6’7″ Andrew Wiggins came back with a “cross that bridge when we come to it” response; the same level of clarity on Wiggins status exists today.  Cleveland’s Thompson sits near the same loyalty scale as Joseph, his very reasonable sit-out last summer for contract reasons notwithstanding and most expect the rim-protecting rebounder to suit up, although maybe with some rest prior to the actual qualifying tournament.  Milwaukee’s 6’3″ Tyler Ennis, who missed last summer with a shoulder injury, is healthy and is expected to play for Canada this summer, supported by comments in mid-March by his father Tony McIntyre, when the Bucks were in town to play the Raptors.

6’10” Andrew Nicholson‘s contract status remains uncertain.  According to an April 7th article by Orlando Sentinel’s Josh Robbins, beat writer for the Orlando Magic:  “It’s unclear whether (the Magic) will make a qualifying offer to Nicholson, a 26-year-old power forward.”  Nicholson, who also has been a loyal player with Canada, shares the same agent (Mark Bartelstein) as fellow Canadians 6’5″ Nik Stauskas – who has yet to confirm that he will play this summer – 6’10” Kyle Wiltjer and 6’3″ Kevin Pangos.  Wiltjer and 6’5″ Jamal Murray both are likely to wait for the NBA Draft on June 23rd before committing (note that the Draft is only about 16 days before the actual games in Manila).  Many expect Murray to not be available, at least for the early portion of the summer, given the timing of the Draft.

Dallas Mavericks 6’9″ reserve forward Dwight Powell, a restricted free agent but who does have the option to sign a $1.2 million qualifying offer for this upcoming season, has the potential to fill 25-30 minutes per game for Canada – he was plagued by nagging injuries last summer that restricted his time.  6’9″ Trey Lyles, the 12th pick in the first round of last season’s NBA draft by Utah, signed a multi-year contract with the Jazz but has also yet to publicly confirm his participation this summer.

To summarize, in just 5 weeks from tomorrow (Tuesday), Canada plays their first game of the Olympic Qualifying tournament in Manila and just one of our core NBA players who have played for Canada in the past (Cory Joseph) has officially committed to playing.  Other NBA notables (Andrew Wiggins, Nik Stauskas, Andrew Nicholson, Dwight Powell, Trey Lyles) have not confirmed participation, with Thompson clearly and legitimately first focusing on an NBA championship run with the Cavs.

With Canada set to assemble for camp in early June to start preparation for late June pre-tournament games and subsequent travel to the Philippines for their first game only 5 weeks for tomorrow, there remain more questions than answers regarding the 12-man roster for the Qualifier.  Coach Triano and staff can only hope that more clarity is achieved sooner than later as Canada tries to erase the terrible memories of Mexico last summer and qualify for Rio 2016.


To get ready for the OQT, Canada will gather for a week of training on 10 June in Toronto. The squad will then leave for Europe and take part in an exhibition tournament in Italy, arriving in the country on 17 June.

Their friendly games against Croatia will be on 20 June and 23 June. Two days later will be a clash with China, following by a game the next day against an opponent that is still to be confirmed. Canada’s last friendly will be against Puerto Rico. They will take on the Boricuas on 29 June before leaving for the Philippines.

Canada, meanwhile, have announced that Dave Smart, David Vanterpool and Bryan Gates will serve as assistant coaches to Triano.



Rana’s U-18’s looking to qualify for next year’s Worlds

After a fifth-place finish last summer with Canada’s U-19 team at the FIBA World U-19 championships in Greece, Head Coach Roy Rana and program look ahead to this summer for another berth at the 2017 World’s, competing with 7 other nations at the 2016 FIBA Americas qualifier in Valdivia, Chile between July 19th and 23rd.  Note that this event, which includes only those players born in 1998 and later, occurs several weeks after the 2016 U-17 Worlds (for players born in 1999 and later).  While Canada Basketball has not published even a preliminary list of invitees, the possibility exists that players who participate in the U-17 Worlds could potentially also be included on the roster for U-18 FIBA Americas qualifier.  Stay tuned.

Among the coaches expected to join Rana on his staff is Manitoba’s Kirby Schepp.  Rana will have a busy summer after his one-year sabbatical, returning to lead CIS Bronze medal winning Ryerson Rams in the fall.

In the recently-released draw for FIBA Americas 2016 U-18 qualifier, Canada will play in Group A, by far the most difficult group, along with Argentina, Brazil and Dominican Republic.  Group B has Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, the U.S.A. and the host Chileans.

While there has been no roster releases or official discussions, here are some notable Canadian players with international and/or NCAA Division 1 potential born in 1998 that could be considered:

6’6″ Abu Kigab (St. Catharines, ON, St. Francis/Prolific Prep (Ca.))

6’1″ Lindell Wigginton (Halifax, NS, Oak Hill Academy)

5’9″ Jordan Henry (Pickering Pine Ridge)

6’8″ O’Shae Brissett (Toronto, Findlay Prep)

6’3″ Jahvon Blair (Brampton, ON/Athlete’s Institute)

6’7″ Isaiah Mike (Scarborough, ON/Trinity International (Las Vegas)/committed to Duquesne)

6’7″ Aher Uguak (Edmonton, ALTA/Harry Ainlay/committed to New Mexico).

Senegal: A first look at Canada’s path through OQT in Manila

As the books close on another eventful collegiate basketball season on both sides of the border and the basketball world’s near-term focus shifts to the N.B.A. playoffs, we are already priming for the Canadian men’s 2016 summer campaign which begins in Manila, Philippines between 5-10 July at one of two, six-team Olympic Qualifying tournaments (OQT).

Our National team, presently #26 in the FIBA world rankings, has been placed in Group A along with Turkey (#8) and Senegel (#31) – Canada will need to finish in the top 2 in this group to advance to the semi-finals and with a win there would move to the championship game where the winner gets a spot in Rio.  Group B consists of France (#5), New Zealand (#21) and the host Philippines (#28).  Note again that only one team in the Philippines qualifying tournament moves on to Rio so Canada must win the tournament championship game to qualify.

The complete schedule for the tournament has been set as follows:

Tuesday, July 5th:  Group A – Turkey vs. Canada; Group B – France vs. Philippines

Wednesday, July 6th:  Group A – Canada vs. Senegal; Group B – Philippines vs. New Zealand

Thursday, July 7th:  Group A – Senegal vs. Turkey; Group B – New Zealand vs. France

Friday, July 8th:  Rest Day

Saturday, July 9th:  Semi-Finals – A1 vs. B2; B1 vs. A2

Sunday, July 10th:  Championship Game

While we intend to take a comprehensive look at the potential Canadian roster in future posts, today we take our first of several quick looks at Canada’s opponents in the Philippines, beginning with #31 Senegal.  The west African nation – a former French colony –  is probably best regarded for their wonderful 2014 campaign at the FIBA World Championships in Spain when Senegal upset heavily-favored Croatia in the round of 16 before being eliminated by the host Spaniards in the quarter-finals.  That summer was the coming out party for 6’10” Gorgei Dieng, now completing his third season as a starter/top-end rotation forward with the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he is a teammate of Canada’s Andrew Wiggins.  Dieng has been a 40 minute per game guy for Senegal in the past two summers and will be Canada’s focus when the teams meet on Wednesday, July 6th.

Senegal’s path to this summer’s Philippines qualifier began after qualifying for Afrobasket 2015 in Tunisia as a wild card.  Senegal quickly surprised many by ripping through the qualifying round with 3 consecutive victories including a dramatic 74-73 win over defending champions Angola on a buzzer-beating tip-in by 6’6″ Antoine Mendy (Orleans Loiret – France Pro A).  Senegal pushed their record to 5-0, advancing to the Final 4 with easy wins over Uganda and Algeria to set up a semi-final matchup with FIBA #25 Nigeria.  In a classic OT battle, Nigeria, which went on to win the tournament, outscored Senegal 12-3 in the extra frame to claim an 88-79 win.  Senegal then settled for fourth place after losing 82-73 to Tunisia in the third place game.  Nigeria is the Afro qualifier for Rio with Tunisia moving to the Italy qualifier and Angola attempting to qualify via the Serbia OQT.

This summer Senegal welcomes a new Head Coach in 7’0″ Mamadou N’Diaye, a familiar face to fans of the Toronto Raptors (2001-2003), who takes over from Cheikh Sarr.  N’Diaye takes over a program that during last summer’s 5-2 campaign played their top 4 players virtually all 40 minutes led by 6’11” Gorgei Dieng who did not come off the floor in any of their pivotal games in Afrobasket 2015.  Dieng, who was a 1st round NBA draft pick after capturing an NCAA championship at Louisville in 2013, averaged over 20 ppg last summer and was the offensive focus both inside and out for Senegal last summer.  Dieng was also a one-man machine in their 2014 win over Croatia at the FIBA World’s in Spain. 6’0″ veteran 33 year old pg Xane D’Almeida averaged about 10 assists in the important tournament games and also rarely came off the floor as Senegal’s one true point.  6’6″ Antoine Mendy, a 32 year old veteran of the French Pro A league and the hero against Angola averaged about 18 ppg in the key games.  6’8″ 35 year old forward Maleye N’Doye (Furman ’04) and also a veteran of the French Pro A league, logged virtually full minutes also, averaging about 8 ppg in the big games. The remainder of last season’s team played sparingly albeit with 6’11” Ibrahima Thomas (Cincinnati ’11) coming off the bench as Senegal’s main three point threat.  Thomas hit 3-6 3’s vs. Nigeria in the semi-final loss.

At least two key pieces from their 2014 campaign did not play last summer and are likely to be available for Philippines, beginning with 6’10” Mouhammed Faye (SMU ’10), a 30-year old power forward who contributed big minutes in 2014.  As well, 7’0″ Hammady Ndiaye (Rutgers ’10), the Big East Defensive Player-of-the-Year in 2010 and a 2nd round pick of Minnesota that year should return after not playing last summer.

Several top prospects from Senegal dot NCAA rosters, most notably 7’6″ Mamadou Ndiaye, who just completed his junior year at UC-Irvine, where he averaged 12.2 ppg/7.2 rpg and almost 3 blocks per game as the tallest player in the NCAA.

Senegal may have the most pure athleticism of any opponent Canada will face with a stable of long, wiry wings and forwards.  In Dieng, Senegal presents a legitimate scoring NBA forward (teammate of Andrew Wiggins).  However, a lack of depth overall, especially in the back court and a reliance of Dieng for the majority of their scoring and offensive touches, could present a challenge for Senegal.

Canada Part Two: A First look at Canada’s potential 2016 OQT roster

By far the most important addition to Canada’s 2016 roster will be 6’11” center Tristan Thompson, who missed last summer’s campaign due to his contract status but remained a loyal follower and supporter of the program.  There is absolutely no reason why Thompson won’t be a key, 30+ minute per game contributor to this summer’s group, providing rim protection, rebounding and athleticism as a pure “5” that arguably was not present last summer.  Thompson continues his excellent work at the things he does best, currently coming off the bench for Cleveland, averaging 9.3 rebounds per game in about 23 minutes.  Both rebounding totals and minutes are steadily rising as Thompson rounds into top form after missing training camp while working through his contract.  A loyal Canadian who will make a huge difference for our team in the paint this summer.

Having recently moved into the starting lineup for the rapidly-improving Boston Celtics, 7’0″ Kelly Olynyk, Canada’s best overall player last summer, appears to be taking that next step toward becoming an upper-echelon player on a winning, championship-contending team in the League.  Olynyk is a perfect complement to Thompson as a stretch “4” who can handle the ball on the perimeter, stretch defenses by consistently knocking-down “pick-and-pop” 3’s and learning to compete harder on the glass – witness his recent breath-taking follow slam against Charlotte.  No greater was the evidence of how important Olynyk is to our fortunes than his tremendous effort against Venezuela in last summer’s semi-final when arguably he was one-slip-on-the-floor-ad away from single-handidly carrying Canada to Rio.

Rapidly emerging as one of the top reserve point guards in the NBA, 6’2″ Cory Joseph has seen his significant, “when-it-counts” minutes rise, augmented Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozen in the Raptors back court.  Always responsible defensively on and off the ball, Joseph starts the offense consistently well and has made multiple big shots to win games including a buzzer-beater at Washington earlier in the year.  His ability to stay out of foul trouble given the nuances of the international game will be key for Canada next summer.

Last summer was another in a string of learning experiences for former #1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins, who continues to grow his overall game at both ends as a wing in Minnesota.  Wiggins had an uneven FIBA Americas tournament, starring in many stretches but, when it counted vs. Venezuela, allowing an opponent to rip a defensive rebound out of his hands in the waning moments when protecting a lead and finishing the semi-final game with a 9 point, 2 rebound, 4 turnover stat line.  Clearly a generational athletic talent, Wiggins will move toward the uber super-star level when he learns to compete on the glass, at the defensive end and off-the-ball in general.  Watching Wiggins play while isolating strictly on him on-and-off the ball during the FIBA Americas tournament (and numerous times in the NBA), it becomes very apparent that his energy and activity off the ball remains low and his lack of effort battling on the glass is reflected in his 3.6 rebounds per game line this season.  It also helps explain his overall won-loss record as a professional of 27-84 (.243) through Christmas.  Wiggins will become a program-changer when he learns to compete in every aspect of his game, not simply in transition and offensively.  I expect he will “will” his way to being a positive contributor for Canada this coming summer and beyond.

Arguably Canada’s most pleasant surprise as last summer’s campaign continued was the improved play of 6’10” Andrew Nicholson.  Buried deep on Canada’s bench early in the tournament primarily due to indifference guarding ball screens and rebounding, Nicholson completely turned his production around as the tournament progressed, competing on the glass and showing maximum effort on the defensive end.  With his offensive game as a stretch 4 still strong, he also improved as a passer and running the floor.  After a slow start minutes-wise in Orlando, Nicholson has averaged over 20 mpg in December and in the 18 games since he has re-entered the upper-end of Head Coach Scott Skiles rotation, the Magic are 12-6.  Skiles demands accountability at the defensive end and Nicholson’s increased minutes are a testament Andrew’s new-found dedication to that part of his game – Canada’s coaching staff should be given credit for helping him improve.  Looking ahead, Nicholson’s status for this summer remains uncertain as he is entering the final year of his contract and would need to be signed by early July to be able to commit.

Probably the player I most cheer for is 6’10” Dwight Powell who struggled with injuries during last summer’s campaign and then had to deal with the sudden loss of his 53 year old mother a couple of months later.  Powell has the potential to be a wonderful complementary player for Canada off the bench given his activity on the glass and ability to finish around the rim.  Powell can also defend and rebound and averages about 8 points and 6 rebounds in about 18 minutes per game off Rick Carlise’s bench in Dallas.  Powell’s status for this summer is also uncertain pending his contract status in early summer.

Much continues to be made of how effective 6’3″ Kentucky freshman Jamal Murray would have been for Canada after his wonderful contribution to the Pan-Am Games silver medal effort.  And his start to his Wildcats career has certainly not disappointed, highlighted by the 7 for 9 effort from downtown in a recent loss against Ohio State.  Whether Murray is ready to play major minutes for the Senior team this summer is debatable; what is not debatable is his skill set and basketball IQ and, further, the positive effect on his career of multiple summers learning the game playing internationally for Canada.  Murray, at the NCAA level, is a tremendous passer – with both hands – has a superior level of court vision and feel for when to make passes and can score in numerous ways including knocking shots down well beyond the 3.  With Murray entering what is very likely to be his draft year, where he goes and when he signs may have more impact on whether or not he will play for Canada this summer than his abilities, which are clearly there or very close to being there.

Unfortunately, it has not been a great start to the NBA season for either 6’8″ Anthony Bennett or 6’3″ Nik Stauskas.  Bennett has rarely seen the floor in meaningful portions of games with the Raptors and simply has not taken that next step as rebounder, scorer or passer.  Stauskas, after starting for much of the early season with the hapless Sixers, has seen his minutes dwindle after making just 4 of his last 24 3’s with an overall 28% rate from downtown.  Clearly not a point guard at the NBA level, his ability to consistently knock down shots and not turn it over will determine his next career progression.  The news is also tough on the Robert Sacre front as the Lakers struggle with just 5 wins and the affable 7’0″ center averages just 4 points and 3 rebounds per game after a summer where he was clearly Canada’s twelfth man.  With Thompson likely back in the fold, unless others like Powell and Nicholson are not available, we may have seen the last of Sacre playing for Canada.

Of the 4 others on Canada’s 2015 roster who are not in the N.B.A., three are toiling in Europe, led by 6’2″ Brady Heslip, who averages 16.3 ppg and shoots 41% from 3 in 31 mpg for Acqua Vitasnella Cantu on Lega Basket A, Italy’s top league.  His club, based in Cantu (near Milan), sits in 10th place in the 20 team league with a 5-8 record.  Heslip should always have a spot on Canada given his unique ability to knock shots down and carry the team at times.  6’7″ Aaron Doornekamp continues to contribute at a high-level in the German Bundesliga – the top league in Germany.  Playing for Canadian Gord Herbert with Frankfort-based Fraport Skyliners, Doornekamp averages 30 minutes per game for a team that sports a 9-5 record good for 7th place in an 18 team league.  Doornekamp is a long-time, loyal contributor to Canada who could have a spot this summer depending upon who can or cannot go.  After a breakthrough summer during which he showed the numerous intangibles required of all winning programs, 6’7″ Melvin Ejim had a contract in Europe signed and sealed but instead opted to attend Orlando’s main camp.  When he did not make the roster, he joined D-league’s Erie Bayhawks, where he has averaged 33.4 mpg, scoring 13.7 ppg and 8.3 rpg.  Ejim is a strong bottom-of-the-rotation reserve who provides great depth minutes in game-every-day-type tournament.  Finally, the news is not good for 6’3″ Phil Scrubb who unfortunately has had limited minutes with AEK Athens of the Greek league.

Others to consider for the summer include 6’1″ Tyler Ennis, who local fans will get a better gauge on later today when the Raptors meet the Bucks, 6’9″ Trey Lyles who recently started some games for Utah but has been generally ineffective as a rookie in the league and Dillon Brooks at Oregon among others.

While there is plenty of time between now and the summer to re-assess who our top 12 for the OQT are likely to be, assuming health and, in the best case resolution of contract situations, expect much of the same roster – with the notable addition of Tristan Thompson – to guide Canada’s success next summer.