Gallagher: Basketball Canada in tough to qualify for the 2016 Olympics after missing out on wild-card spots
Canadian men’s basketball is genuinely thought to be on the road to success in world competitions to come in the next six to 10 years, but Saturday’s FIBA decision on wild-card entries into the World Cup competition in Spain this summer certainly hasn’t helped.
In not qualifying for the tournament last September in Caracas, when it looked for almost the entire Americas tournament that they would make it, has assured Canada of having to qualify for the 2016 Olympics the hard way, by simply winning enough games in the pre-qualifying tournament in the summer of 2015 in their first significant competition since Venezuela.
Canada had hoped to land one of the four wild-card spots to this summer’s World Cup competition Saturday, but even after some notable withdrawals from consideration by Russia, Italy, Germany and China, the country was dropped from the list by FIBA, which selected traditional basketball powers Turkey, Brazil, Greece and then a surprise, Finland.
Canada had been hoping to convince the world body of its emerging merit, pointing to the fact the country recently had two players taken high in the first round of last year’s NBA draft in Anthony Bennett, who went first overall, and Kamloops’s Kelly Olynyk, who was taken in the No. 13 position. And they almost certainly added that projections for the 2014 draft presently list three Canadian players in the top 15 spots. Ontario natives Andrew Wiggins (Kansas) from Thornhill, Brampton’s Tyler Ennis (Syracuse) and Michigan’s Nik Stauskas of Mississauga are all coveted picks in what is being touted as perhaps the best draft in history. Evidently those arguments fell on deaf ears.
Other than the Finland selection, it’s pretty hard to argue the other three choices, although Turkey has had rather a lot of favours from the world body lately. Brazil was selected on the basis that they are hosting the Olympics in 2016 and apparently promised the world body all of their NBA players who missed the tournament in September would be present and accounted for in Spain. Greece is a traditional basketball power ranked well above Canada, and Turkey is a country with NBA players and an avid following for the sport — something Canada really isn’t in a position to boast quite yet, given that NBA games traditionally don’t get great numbers here on television. And the Turks were runners-up to the U.S. in the 2010 world championships.
The Finns are 39th in the world rankings, fully 14 spots behind Canada, but they came in with the corporate support of Rovio, the company that produces the Angry Birds game and which had assured organizers they would be heavy advertisers in Spain if their country was selected. And to be fair, over the past 10 years the development of Finnish basketball has been outstanding, and it is likely to continue to improve.
With FIBA not having the most savoury of reputations around the world as a body above reproach, they certainly didn’t do themselves any favours listing under the “governance aspects” of the criteria for wild-card selection on their website something that might give the appearance these spots were available to the highest bidder.
Said the website, which also noted this was the last time a system of wild cards would be used: “National federations applying to have their national team considered for a wild card can make a donation. Each national federation is free to decide the amount to be donated. The amounts collected will be used for worldwide promotion of basketball through FIBA’s International Basketball Foundation.”
Make of that what you will, but when you consider Canada Basketball still has some debt issues, doesn’t have a massive corporate sugar daddy looking after their every need, and is on the outside looking in, let’s just say the process could look a little bit better.
With the national team now confined to playing just an exhibition schedule this summer, coach Jay Triano may find it hard to attract the big stars. If that’s the case, it means when the 2015 pre-qualifying tourney rolls around in a yet to be determined location, the team will be going into zone competition without much time together as a unit, and likely with the U.S. and Brazil already assured spots.
If they can pull it off, you’ll know Canada is on its way.
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Despite Canada boasting upcoming talents such as projected high draft pick Andrew Wiggins of the Kansas Jayhawks, Canadian men's basketball was on the outside looking in when FIBA announced its four wild cards for this summer's World Cup.
Photograph by: Charlie Neibergall, AP