DONGGUAN, China — The blame game has begun, but not inside Canada Basketball … at least not yet.
Two losses and an early elimination from FIBA World Cup play already has people calling for Canadian team GM Rowan Barrett’s head.
Whether it ever gets to that remains to be seen, but for the time being Glen Grunwald, the president and CEO of Basketball Canada says the Canadian side, from management on down, is focused only on the task at hand.
That task involves three more games in China. One tomorrow in Dongguan against Senegal to finish off Group play and then two more over the weekend in Shanghai against Jordan and Germany in the Classification games.
Canada’s record from Group play carries over into the Classification round where they will be in a group with Jordan and Germany along with Senegal.
A top two showing there should be good enough to get Canada a spot in one of four six-team Last Chance Olympic qualifiers next June. Only the best team in each group will earn an Olympic berth.
Grunwald said it’s far too early, and implied unfair, to be playing the blame game for Canada’s unsuccessful bid for direct qualification to the Olympics at the FIBA World Cup.
“This is the time for us to focus on this tournament with this team and then when we are done here we will evaluate it and get a plan,” Grunwald said while Nick Nurse put the Canadian team through practice. “This cycle coincides with a strategic plan we are working on. This strategic plan goes through 2020 so we are developing a new one now for the next quad that obviously will incorporate next summer. We will figure it out and have a plan and figure out what we need to do better and differently and what we are doing well and what we need to continue to do.”
Both Grunwald and Barrett suggested a little more patience might be in order as well.
“I think I started this job in February, and I’ve been working in that time frame to bring in a coach and bring in our players, and understand kind of what’s ahead of us,” Barrett said. “I think right now our goal kind of remains the same, we’re trying to get to the Olympics. And that goal is still within our grasp, I think we’ve come out and played two of the best teams in this tournament, they look like they’ll be medal threats from what I can see, and now we’ve got basically a three-game tournament left to try to secure one of those Olympic qualifying tournament positions.”
Barrett was asked if he and his group had to change the way they approached the Canadian NBA talent considering that only two of a possible 17 (yes there were a few injuries, granted) felt it necessary to answer the call.
“I dunno, does the USA have to change the way that they do it?” Barrett countered. “I don’t know that anybody thinks that (Jerry) Colangelo is not doing a good job at USA Basketball. I think that the structure has changed and as a result, we’ve gotta rebound with it and figure it out.”
Bottom line though is something has to change. NBA talent does not ensure success on the world basketball stage. But the talent that Canada has in the NBA, and Canada Basketball has played a role in developing this too in many cases, has to be utilized if we, as a country, are ever to reach our world potential.
Nurse, a realist in every sense of the word, breaks down Canada’s situation in this tournament to date nicely.
“Well, listen, I think people understood, to some extent, the pool we got drawn into,” he said referring to World No. 6 Lithuania and World No. 11 Australia.
“As I continue to say I coached against both those teams in the 2012 Olympics (with Great Britain) and it’s the same guys,” Nurse said. “You are not talking about two years ago. That’s seven years ago. So that’s a hell of a lot of games and experience but the main thing is they are just all better players now. It’s a better Jonas (Valanciunas) now than he was then. Patty Mills, (Matthew) Dellavedova, how about (Joe) Ingles? So those are two really good teams.
“I mean I thought we battled hard,” Nurse continued. “I wish we would have played a bit better. I thought we played at both ends of the spectrum too much. Really great sequences – really great – and then really disastrous.
“We just needed those 17 (disastrous) plays to be medium,” he said. “They can’t all be up here. It could be one bad communication switch for a layup, which is fine, but you can’t have four. You can’t survive that.”
The path is there for Canada to get one more crack at an Olympic berth next year. This group led by NBAers Cory Joseph and Khem Birch and soon-to-be-NBAers like Kevin Pangos and Melvin Ejim, have that within their grasp.
But come next June the hope is that that group can be bolstered by some of the talent that didn’t answer the call this time around and Grunwald, for one, remains optimistic that will be the case.
“Well, yeah I would think so,” Grunwald said adding more NBA talent to this group. “We had four guys who couldn’t make the team because of injuries. Dillon Brooks, Jamal Murray, Kelly (Olynyk) was here and then got hurt, RJ (Barrett) and then also Oshae Brissett was playing really well and then he went down with injury and we had to replace him with another big.
“So that’s just the nature of it,” Grunwald said. “You have to deal with the issues as they arise. We actually did have a reasonable NBA turnout. Unfortunately, those guys aren’t here because they got hurt. That’s the nature of it.”
Should that group all make it out next June, one would have to like Canada’s chances.