Tag Archives: basketball

Inside the Canadian women’s basketball team’s virtual training camp

It was exactly 367 days ago when Canada’s women’s basketball team qualified for Tokyo 2020.

Fast-forward to today, and the team is coming off a week-long virtual training camp, unable to meet in person due to the pandemic that forced the one-year postponement of the Olympics.

“That was sort of like the last big thing before the wheels fell off, and you think back to your mindset and just how everything felt at that point in time in Belgium: living the life, competing, playing against the best in the world, winning games, qualifying for [the] Tokyo Olympics, doing it all together. We were on top of the world,” head coach Lisa Thomaidis said of the Olympic qualifying tournament played last February.

“And then, you know, a few short weeks later, just how everything came crashing down.”

Training camp kicked off first thing Monday with words from Canadian chef de mission Marnie McBean, who reassured the team that Tokyo 2020 would indeed be going ahead in 2021.

McBean advised the team to block out reports that may arise in the coming months, such as the single-source story from the Times of London in late January that claimed the Japanese government had concluded to cancel the 2021 Games.

“It was good timing because it had come out [two] week[s] prior to us getting together. And so for her to come on the Monday morning and just be kind of like, ‘OK, this is what’s really happening,’ it was good just to kind of get rid of the elephant in the room,” Thomaidis said.

McBean’s insistence set the tone for a week of daily two-hour meetings covering everything from team vision to Olympic logistics to Tokyo heat.

“[We] went through a lot of envisioning and projecting what it’s going to be like in Tokyo, the conditions, the living arrangements, our competition schedule or training schedule leading into it,” Thomaidis said.

Those exercises helped put players’ minds at ease about attending the Olympics during a pandemic — not that there was much hesitance after already waiting this long to compete.

Forward Ruth Hamblin said it was important to hear assurance from McBean when she sees so much negativity surrounding the Olympics every day on Twitter.

“I feel like this meeting just kind of solidified what we have as a team and our system and our momentum. It’s going to be different, but it’s still an Olympics. I think that that doesn’t change. And if anything, it’s more than ever because the world needs some positivity,” said Hamblin, who currently plays in Poland.

Social activity welcomed

With questions surrounding the Olympics sorted, Thomaidis began instilling some of the team’s on-court systems. It’s tough to implement anything too complicated over Zoom, but some base principles helped sharpen how the team will attempt Canada’s first-ever Olympic women’s basketball medal.

After so much time apart, the social aspect of the week was also welcome to both coach and players alike.

Some meetings included games with quiz software Kahoot, and another ice-breaker matching Emojis to different players kicked off each day’s festivities.

“It’s just good old times, like the familiarity with these people because we spent so much time together. It’s really good to just hang out with them,” Hamblin said.

“I think more than anything, it was just that the energy that they came to the meetings with was pretty cool. People are tuning in from all around the world,” Thomaidis reiterated.

The team will continue to meet regularly over Zoom, likely every three or four weeks with frequency increasing as the Olympics approach.

Next opportunity to meet in May

While some other teams, including the U.S., were able to meet in person during the international window, Canada was stuck online with players dispersed throughout the U.S., France, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey and Germany.

Forward Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe, who plays for Lyon in France, thinks that could work in Canada’s favour.

“I don’t think anyone expects us to get together two hours every day and watch film together and have a virtual reality. And I’m just really happy that we’re doing these things that can gain us a competitive edge over some of the other countries,” she said.

Canada’s next opportunity to meet in person is in May, when the team hopes to hold training camp in Edmonton ahead of the FIBA AmeriCup in June.

Overseas pro leagues will be done by then, meaning the logistics of gathering could be simplified. Then again, planning in a pandemic is fluid.

“I think it’s going to be one of the strangest Olympics ever,” Hamblin said. “And our ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances is going to be a key to our success.”

A basketball team going over a year without practice ahead of its biggest tournament certainly qualifies as strange. But from all corners of the world, Team Canada appears to be adjusting well.

And after the long period of inactivity, that competitive fire only burns brighter.

“We’re a basketball team, we just want to go and compete. I think everyone’s just finally looking forward to that. So, yeah, definitely some excitement building,” Thomaidis said.

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CBC | Sports News

‘Out of the blue’: Canada Basketball blindsided by FIBA sanctions, $227K fine

Canada Basketball president and CEO Glen Grunwald says he was blindsided by sanctions levied against the program on Wednesday.

The International Basketball Federation, or FIBA, fined the Canadian governing body for the sport up to $ 227,138 and threatened to dock Canada’s national team a point in the standings after it chose not to attend a FIBA AmeriCup qualifier in November on the advice of medical experts amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re going to try and be positive,” Grunwald told CBC Sports. “We’re going to appeal this because we do think it’s unfair and wrong. But we’ll play by the rules as they’re dictated. And I hope FIBA can be bigger than what they’ve been here instead of, you know, trying to be strong arming teams to violate public health protocols.”

The third and final stage of AmeriCup qualifying is scheduled to be held Feb. 18-22, with Canada’s group — including Cuba, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Virgin Islands — playing in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The games have no bearing on qualification for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. However, failing to qualify for the AmeriCup would end Canada’s Paris 2024 Olympic bid.

Even after missing two games, Canada could still clinch its AmeriCup spot with two wins in February. One victory would still open the door, while two straight losses spells the worst-case scenario.

‘I didn’t expect this’

In November, Canada Basketball said it was working with FIBA to reschedule the games it would miss. Grunwald said progress was made on that front in the interim.

Just two months later, the 62-year-old former Toronto Raptors executive says the program was surprised by its punishment.

“I didn’t expect this, actually,” Grunwald said. “So then for this to come out of the blue, when I had been advised earlier that if we were not participating because of medical reasons, it would not be any penalties. So, again, very disappointed and a bit disillusioned with the approach.”

As of publication, FIBA had not responded to a CBC Sports request for comment.

In its statement, FIBA said that Canada would only be fined half the amount and would not lose a point if it attends the February tournament. If not, those sanctions would remain in place.

“It is kind of a threat. We’re working really hard and our medical staff has been awesome,” Grunwald said. “One of the great things about the Canadian sport community is we’re all working together in this very difficult time.”

Nick Nurse says he agrees with Canada Basketball’s decision not to send players to November’s qualifier and is disappointed by the sanctions imposed by the International Basketball Federation. (Will Russell/Getty Images)

Exploring more testing, longer quarantine

Head coach Nick Nurse agreed with Grunwald’s sentiments about FIBA’s sanctions.

“I back the decision [not to play] by Canada Basketball,” he said.

“It was all about player safety for us. And we just didn’t feel like we could execute it and keep our players as safe as we wanted to at that point, which I think is understandable.

“We look forward to getting playing hopefully in February and getting on to the Olympic qualifier and going from there.”

Grunwald said Canada Basketball is hopeful to participate in that February window and is working with health experts to stiffen protocols from what they were in November. Those measures could include more frequent testing, verification of those tests and longer quarantine periods.

The program is working with lawyers to sort out the next step in the appeals process. An official appeal must be filed within the next 14 days.

“Ideally, we will win the appeal, and we won’t have to pay it, but if we do have to pay it, I would hope that FIBA contributes that money to COVID-19 front-line workers and other people that are working in this area where they really do need support instead of pocketing the cash,” Grunwald said.

Canada currently sits 1-1 after splitting a pair with the Dominican in February 2020. Games against Cuba and the Virgin Islands had been scheduled for November, with the same opponents set for February 2021. The top three teams in each group qualify for the 2022 FIBA AmeriCup.

WATCH | Vivek Jacob of CBC Sports breaks down Raptors’ outlook:

After a rough start to the season, could the Raptors finally be finding their footing? Vivek Jacob takes a look at the next 5 games and what they mean for the season. 2:58

‘Dangerous precedent’ set by ruling, says COC

Canada Basketball said in a release Wednesday that not only would its participation have directly contradicted the mandates of the federal government “but also the directive of our chief medical officer and other medical professionals throughout Canada’s sport system, including those with Canada Basketball, Sport Canada, Own The Podium, the Return to Sport Task Force, and the Canadian Olympic Committee.”

As for the COC, CEO and secretary general David Shoemaker said the organization is “extremely disappointed with this ruling.”

“Canada Basketball should not face punitive sanctions for prioritizing the health and safety of its athletes, coaches and staff during a pandemic of this magnitude.”

Shoemaker went on to say the COC is very concerned with the decision.

“It sets a dangerous precedent and sends the wrong message to sport organizations while the world remains locked in a battle with COVID-19,” Shoemaker said to CBC Sports.

“In essence, FIBA is saying that Canada Basketball should have sent its team into harm’s way, notwithstanding clear medical and public health advice.”

Shoemaker said the ruling could also negatively impact Canada Basketball’s finances, which, he said, were “already decimated by COVID-19.” That could have lasting consequences for its operational capacity and “funding for programs that grow the game of basketball across Canada.”

Shoemaker said the COC continues to stand by Canada Basketball’s decision not to travel to the November qualifier in the midst of a pandemic.

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CBC | Sports News

Pandemic practices: How 2 U of T women’s basketball coaches are navigating a season without games

It’s been an on-and-off season for the University of Toronto women’s basketball team.

Players were on the court in September practising mostly in groups of five — with the exception of one full team practice — until Thanksgiving, when lockdown in Ontario forced them off.

“Practices” from home lasted four more weeks until the team was cleared to return to the court for another seven days. That’s when the latest provincial lockdown took effect, forcing the team back off the court.

Now, as coronavirus cases surge across the province, and specifically in Toronto, a return to the hardwood is nowhere in sight.

“It’s been a tough time, obviously not being on the court as much, really trying to make your team essentially become a team — not necessarily on the court. That’s been tough. But there are a lot of things that you can do off the court, [where] I find are there are opportunities to really make themselves better not just as a basketball player, but as a person,” said interim head coach and two-time Olympian Tamara Tatham.

Tatham took over the role July 1 after the retirement of Michele Belanger, who spent 41 seasons guiding the Varsity Blues.

But Tatham has yet to call a timeout or set a starting lineup. She retired as a player in 2017 before becoming an assistant on Belanger’s bench. In September, the 35-year-old brought on Rio Olympic teammate and current national team player Miah-Marie Langlois, 29, to the staff.

One month later, USports announced all winter championships, including women’s basketball, would be called off due to the pandemic. The team has not and will not play a single game.

“We’re just making sure they’re still staying connected somehow. We did a lot during the summer, but we kind of dialed it down since the school year started by because they’re in school 24/7 online,” said Tatham.

Zoom practices

The team is meeting regularly over Zoom, though basketball is often not the main focus. Instead, Tatham and Langlois choose to zero in on social activity.

“It’s really important to not get on the girls or expect a lot from them when they’re going through a bigger problem than being denied just basketball. We still have to worry about them, especially their mental health. So we’re just trying to be very conscious about everyone’s screen time and just try to support the girls as much as we can to get through this,” said Langlois.

There’s been sessions built for the players to just get to know each other. Another meeting had a Christmas theme, and a pair of Zoom workout calls even had ’80s and Halloween dress codes.

Three times a week, the strength and conditioning coach sends out a program and the players lift together over video. Langlois managed to put together a ball-handling session when it was warmer out, too.

“Basketball is a team sport. I think girls like [that part of] sports, the whole connection and bonding. So we want to keep that aspect of basketball in it and try to use the same sessions to allow the girls to connect with each other, even if they can’t physically,” said Langlois.

While practices are fine, everyone is itching to get back on the court. (Submitted by Tamara Tatham)

Tatham and Langlois said it’s still been tough for the players riding the roller-coaster of the non-existent season.

“But it’s also been a bit of a blessing because you’re getting to realize what basketball is and how important it is to you personally,” said Tatham.

The pandemic hasn’t eased the new coaches’ transition to the bench either. There are no game plans to prepare, no rotations to manage, no progression to see over the eight-month season.

Instead, the lack of competition has helped Tatham and Langlois learn the behind-the-scenes of coaching, like recruiting, fundraising and off-court team-building.

Learning curve for coaches

Tatham said the biggest things she learned about coaching was how it can be like a CEO’s role, with the need to marry all the non-basketball stuff with on-court activity.

But that hasn’t stopped the head coach from watching the NBA — specifically Nick Nurse’s Toronto Raptors and Erik Spoelstra’s Miami Heat — to pick up new strategy every single night. 

“The way they manage, not necessarily whether they manage timeouts, it’s more so what they’re doing at the timeout, why they’re taking timeouts. … And just some of the way that they’re running different offences, how is it slowing? What’s your transition look like? What does your defensive transition like?”

Langlois, still more used to being coached as opposed to coaching, relished the opportunity to improve her relationships with players, like knowing when to push and when to hold back.

Seven months out of the Tokyo Olympics, Langlois also has her playing career to worry about. She’s currently rehabbing a sciatic nerve injury with an eye on full recovery for July, though that process is made even harder with gyms shut down.

But the task at hand remains the Varsity Blues. While Zoom practices are fine, everyone is itching to get back on the court.

“We get told a date and then it comes near and then it gets pushed back again. So we are not in the know just like everyone else,” she said.

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Canadian Elite Basketball League targeting big cities for possible expansion

Richard Petko went from rebuilding a town to starting a professional basketball league and somehow it seems like a natural progression. 

The Canadian real estate developer and his business partner, Michael Skrtich, were renovating store fronts and constructing an apartment complex as part of a facade improvement incentive program in Thorold, Ont., when they also saw an opportunity to bring a sports team to nearby St. Catharines.

From 2015-18, the Niagara River Lions operated out of the Meridian Centre as a member of the National Basketball League of Canada. Petko, 49, eventually grew frustrated with what he viewed as a poor business model and decided to branch out on his own to form the Canadian Elite Basketball League.

The CEBL head office is part of the new look in Thorold and has established a presence in the community as opposed to being “cocooned off in some ivory tower somewhere” such as downtown Toronto, Petko said.

Petko and CEBL commissioner Mike Morreale — a former CFL player — instituted six teams for the inaugural season in 2019: Fraser Valley, Edmonton, Saskatchewan, Guelph, Hamilton and the River Lions, who Petko brought to the CEBL after his three-year commitment to the NBL-C expired.

The Ottawa BlackJacks were added ahead of the 2020 campaign, which ultimately became a tournament played without fans at the Meridian Centre. 

The CEBL has made it known they would like to expand further and are now keen to enter more big markets.

“There was always that kind of idea you could have a league in junior hockey league cities,” Petko said. “I don’t think that can work. To be big-time, to get good players, to get proper media you have to be basically where the CFL is, at least at a minimum.”

To that effect, Petko suggests that locations such as Calgary, Winnipeg, Montreal, and Quebec City would be ideal. However, he emphasizes that they want to partner with groups with sports and entertainment experience and all the infrastructure in place to run a team.

“Those are the best partners to have. Not just some rich person or five people that want to do it as a fun thing to do,” Petko said. “I’ve come from that when it comes to the NBL-C and I’ve seen that it doesn’t work.

“It took three or four years of running the River Lions to learn how to run a basketball team and we don’t have the time and we don’t need to go through that  — starting something and to have an owner learn for three or four years when there are groups out there ready to run.”

WATCH | Stingers crowned Summer Series champions:

Peter Ruttgaizer and Joe Raso break down Edmonton’s 90-73 win over Fraser Valley in the CEBL Summer Series championship game. 2:03

This past summer, the league was forced to pivot from the format of a season that spans from May to August, played in front of spectators in its regional markets. Instead, the Summer Series featured 26 games over a two-week period, with some of those contests appearing nationally on CBC television.

The league is hoping to return to its regional model next season. A schedule is expected to be released early in the new year, but likely without any additional teams as Petko says groups are “kicking our tires” and waiting a year to see how things play out post-pandemic.

‘This isn’t a charitable organization’

Whille the league is approaching a break-even point, Petko is direct in stating what he set out to achieve.

“If money isn’t made, this league will end up in the dustbin of history,” he said. “This isn’t a charitable organization, this isn’t something that [I’m] going to throw a few million a year into a bucket just so there can be a professional league in Canada for the next 20, 30 years. 

“It has to become part of the sports culture and that doesn’t happen unless you make money. It’s what came first, the chicken or the egg. I guess in this case, the league came before the profits but without profits, there will be no league.”

Following what was widely regarded as a successful tournament, the league remained in the news cycle with the hiring of former Canadian national team members Jevohn Shepherd and Andy Rautins as general manager and assistant general manager, respectively, by the Ottawa franchise.

Shepherd and Rautins, both 34, were each looking for an opportunity to transition from their professional playing days, something Morreale can relate to.

“When I look at Andy or Jevohn, it’s funny because it somewhat mirrors my personal experience which was playing professional sports until I was 36 and then wondering what the heck am I going to do next,” said Morreale, now 49. “My opportunity came with the [CFL] players’ association within a month or two of retiring and that led me on my path to where I am now.

“So part of [our] developmental process is getting people who are willing and able to work hard, have passion, that understand what the CEBL is all about, that put aside their selfish ways and then selflessly do their part to help grow the sport.”

New chapter

This time last year, Rautins was preparing to embark on one of the best opportunities of his career.

A star at Syracuse University and drafted by the New York Knicks in 2010, the shooting guard would likely still be draining three pointers for Greek powerhouse Panathinaikos if it weren’t for the abrupt end to the season and what he described as dangerous conditions as teams continue to travel around Europe on commercial flights. 

“It was a short-lived experience, but I think ultimately the league made the right decisions. The cases were starting to get a little bit out of control at that point,” said Rautins, who returned home three days after the EuroLeague pressed the pause button in March.

Though he hasn’t ruled out a return to the court, Rautins now turns his attention to the city where he put down his roots with the national team more than a decade ago.

“The fact that it was Ottawa, the [team] president, and that I have the opportunity to work with Jevohn is a no-brainer for me,” said Rautins. “It’s going to be a special thing that we’re going to try to build in Ottawa.”

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Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer passes Pat Summitt as winningest coach in women’s college basketball

Tara VanDerveer made history, and then took a moment to tell her Stanford players what they mean to her.

“The most important thing I can do as a coach is love you,” VanDerveer said. “I love the game of basketball and I want to help you be the best you can be. You’re the people that I care about. Thank you.”

Typical Tara, wanting to share the joy on a night when the spotlight shined brightly on her — and her alone.

VanDerveer became the winningest women’s college basketball coach Tuesday night, passing the late Pat Summitt with her 1,099th victory as No. 1 Stanford romped to a 104-61 victory over Pacific.

Dressed casually in all black, VanDerveer received the game ball after the final buzzer. Her dancing players chanted “Tara! Tara!” and gave her a new oversized pullover reading “T-DAWG” to celebrate the latest milestone for the Hall of Fame coach in her 35th season on The Farm and 42nd overall as a college head coach. The wearable blanket was forward Francesca Belibi’s idea.

“It’s really sweet,” VanDerveer said.

WATCH | Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer earns record 1,099th coaching win:

The longtime Stanford coach passed Tennessee’s Pat Summitt for the record-setting 1,099 win of her career. 0:36

The 67-year-old VanDerveer improved her career record to 1,099-253. The road to this historic night began with her first head coaching job at the University of Idaho from 1978-80, and then moved to Ohio State (1980-85) and Stanford, where she is 947-202. Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma is right behind at 1,093 wins.

“This is special because of the magnitude of that many wins,” VanDerveer said. “You never go into coaching, I never thought, ‘Well, I’m going to try to win 1,000 games’ or anything like that. This is special, currently having the No. 1 team, being undefeated, playing in a pandemic, I will never forget this, for sure.”

After the history-making win in a draped-off area upstairs that served as Stanford’s locker room, VanDerveer received a plaque containing a piece of the floor from Stanford’s home court at Maples Pavilion. A framed proclamation from Palo Alto Mayor Adrian Fine was another memento. White long-sleeved shirts commemorating the night were made for the players as well as hand-held confetti poppers and individual mini cakes with an attached sticker that read, “Tara at the top.” Silver balloons with the numbers 1,099 adorned the room.

Just as the humble VanDerveer prefers, she broke Summitt’s mark going largely under the radar and with little fanfare given the game took place in California’s Central Valley — about 80 miles from the Bay Area. No fans were allowed into Spanos Center, either.

“I really hope Pat Summitt is looking down and saying, `Good job Tara, keep it going,”‘ VanDerveer said. “I loved coaching against Pat, and we miss her.”

Tennessee women’s basketball posted a photo of VanDerveer and Summitt on Twitter and a message that read: “1099. Pat would be proud. Congratulations, Coach VanDerveer!”

“We were friends and obviously competitors,” VanDerveer said. “She had great passion for the game and I think she sees that with me. She loves unselfish basketball which I think she would see with our team. More than anything she helped me get better as a coach because you had to work really hard to prepare. We lost more games than we won against Tennessee. She was a great mentor and a great friend. I think she would be proud of us.”

Stanford (5-0) couldn’t play a home game with the Tigers on Nov. 29 because of a positive coronavirus test in the Pacific program and then again Tuesday because of COVID-19 restrictions in Santa Clara County that sent the Cardinal on the road for three weeks. It spent much of that stretch in Las Vegas before travelling to Berkeley to play California in a Sunday night game, when VanDerveer tied Summitt’s record.

“I look at it as a blessing in disguise. We’re living in a hotel,” senior Kiana Williams said. “It’s not ideal but we have more time to spend together.”

Travelling from Berkeley on Tuesday, Stanford wound up getting caught in traffic due to an accident that delayed the Cardinal’s arrival at the arena by 30 minutes.

It hardly mattered.

Anna Wilson got Stanford off to a fast start with an opening four-point play.

“That’s why I came to Stanford, I wanted to be coached by a winner,” Wilson said. “Even in this challenge of being in the middle of quarantine and having to deal with all these adjustments, she’s done a really great job of being here for us and providing the very best that we can experience during this time.”

VanDerveer thanked her parents and family.

“Hi Mom! Don’t cry, Mom,” VanDerveer instructed mother Rita, who was watching on TV. “It’s happy.”

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How Canada’s men’s basketball Olympic fate could be decided by the NBA schedule

We don’t know when the 2020-21 NBA season will begin. We don’t know how many games will be played, where they’ll be played or who they’ll be played in front of.

We do have some clues though, after multiple recent reports suggested the league wants to start a 72-game season around Christmas. A LeBron James-led player faction would reportedly prefer a Jan. 18 beginning.

NBA owners met on Friday, where they agreed with players to extend the negotiation deadline for one week.

“The NBPA is actively engaged with our players in an effort to be able to reach agreements with out league and team partners to address these significant and complex issues,” the players’ union said in a statement Friday. “Each of us has a stake in doing what’s fair, what’s best for our business and what respects the rights and interests of all stakeholders. We are confident we will get there.”

That four-week difference between Dec. 22 and Jan. 18 could determine the Canadian men’s basketball Olympic fate.

The NBA’s desire for a fast turnaround — around two-and-a-half months after the Los Angeles Lakers won the title — reveals some of the league’s priorities as it grapples with the pandemic.

Instead of waiting until February or March in hopes of having fans in the stadium, the league seemingly prefers staying close to its regular schedule while letting the virus determine when crowds would be OK.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver had previously stated his “best guess” for next season’s start would be January “at least,” but record-low Finals ratings while going up against the NFL may have ignited desire to get the league closer to its regular schedule.

Accordingly, the possibility of NBA players participating in the Olympic basketball tournament that begins July 25 has reopened.

Canada, however, has yet to qualify, leaving itself to a last-chance tournament in Victoria, B.C., beginning June 29, where only the victor heads to Tokyo.

In a regular year, that late-June date would come a week or two after the Finals, meaning many Canadian NBA hopefuls would have had a month or more from the end of their season.

In 2021, however, June 29 could fall right in the middle of the playoffs, with the Finals wrapping shortly before the Olympics.

And that means there are even more questions for the Canadian men’s basketball team. Most crucially: who will be available for the qualification tournament?

Considering the schedule crunch, there’s almost no chance Canada boasts a full roster in Victoria. But that also means competitors won’t have their NBA talent either — including Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo.

So what might Team Canada look like?

Projecting the ‘Dare-to-Dream Team’

The first question comes at coach, where the Raptors’ success will be inversely correlated to Nick Nurse’s availability. The further the Raptors advance, the less likely Nurse is available to coach in Victoria. Meanwhile, lead assistant Nate Bjorkgren now helms the Indiana Pacers; his availability will be in question too.

That equation is fairly simple.

It’s tougher to parse how players might be thinking on the heels of the NBA season.

For some, that season will be ongoing. Fortunately for Canada, most of its top players don’t play on top NBA teams. There is just one main concern: Jamal Murray and the Denver Nuggets.

It’ll be tough for the Nuggets to return to the West final in a loaded conference, but they’ve proven capable. Even a second-round exit might make Murray question heading straight to Victoria.

Murray, however, was the first player to tweet his commitment to the team for the Victoria tournament way back in November. It’s an understatement to say lots has changed since then, but his willingness to lead the charge, plus his guaranteed contract with Denver through 2024-25, portend good things for his participation.

WATCH | Murray drops 50 in potential elimination game:

Kitchener, Ontario native Jamal Murray reached the 50 point mark for the second time in the series to lead the Denver Nuggets to a 119-107 victory over the Utah Jazz. 1:14

Behind Murray, the second-most impactful player would be OKC point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who followed Murray’s footsteps in November by committing to the national team.

Also like Murray, Gilgeous-Alexander’s contract status is set, so barring injury he should have little reason not to attend.

That guard duo is a virtual lock to start, but the other three spots are all up in the air. At the wing, there’s Memphis’ Brandon Clarke and Dillon Brooks, as well as OKC playoff standout Luguentz Dort and national team stalwart Kevin Pangos.

Potential starting bigs include veterans Tristan Thompson and Kelly Olynyk, Dallas’ Dwight Powell, who’s recovering from a torn Achilles, and Pangos’ Gonzaga teammate Kyle Wiltjer.

Two NBAers played on the World Cup team in China. Cory Joseph would likely be the third guard in this scenario, while Orlando centre Khem Birch would be in tough to make the team.

And then there’s Andrew Wiggins and RJ Barrett. Wiggins famously hasn’t played for Canada since 2015, but indicated a willingness to mend fences. His star has faded since being drafted No. 1 in 2014, but there is certainly appeal for him on Canada as a microwave bench scorer.

We’ll know a lot more about Barrett after next season. If it goes like his rookie campaign, there won’t be much case for him to be on the team — despite his father being GM.

There should also be consideration given to those who have consistently shown up for Canada, like Melvin Ejim, Brady Heslip and Phil and Thomas Scrubb. Raptors depth players Chris Boucher and Oshae Brissett could also be options.

Canada is ranked 21st in the world by FIBA. It will play No. 7 Greece and No. 28 China in the group phase, where the top two teams reach the semifinals. The other group contains No. 43 Uruguay, No. 15 Turkey and No. 9 Czech Republic.

If Canada can dress its full team, it should be favoured to book its ticket to Tokyo. But that’s still a big if.

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How Basketball Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman was ahead of his time

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It’s been 20 years since his last NBA game, but Dennis Rodman is a hot topic for sports fans again. He’s the featured character in the just-released third episode of The Last Dance, the documentary series about the Michael Jordan Bulls dynasty that has done an admirable job of filling the hole in our hearts where live sports used to be.

What made (and continues to make) Rodman so interesting is that he’s so many different things to so many different people. No matter your likes, dislikes, interests, biases or worldview, the Worm has something for you — positive or negative (or both). Here are some of the things that made Rodman one of the most colourful (literally) athletes of all time:

He was a good basketball player

Rodman couldn’t really score — he averaged 7.3 points per game for his career and cracked double digits for a season only once. So he made his bones by excelling at two things most players don’t like to do: rebounding and defence. This is basketball’s dirty work. You need some talent to be effective, but it’s more about energy, desire and toughness — three things Rodman had in spades.

He was also smart enough to realize he could carve out a niche here, and dedicated enough to devote himself to the game’s dark arts. As he says in the documentary, Rodman would spend hours in the gym without hoisting a shot. He’d have a friend launch hundreds of bricks so he could study how the ball bounced off the rim and the backboard from every possible angle and practise snatching it from the air.

Rodman’s mastery of the glass endeared him to basketball nerds, his teammates and (sometimes grudgingly) opponents. He was the kind of guy no one likes to play against. That’s high praise in pro sports.

Rodman was not easy to play against, as New York Knicks star Patrick Ewing could attest. (Vincent Laforet/AFP via Getty Images)

He was a winner

Rodman won five championships in 14 NBA seasons. He was a key contributor to two of the most famous teams of all time: the Bad Boy Pistons who won back-to-back titles in 1989 and ’90, and the phase-two Jordan Bulls who won three straight from ’96 to ’98 after MJ came back from his first retirement. 

Rodman’s rebounding and defence were really important to those teams. Championship contenders need that kind of stuff. But it worked the other way too: those teams were perfect for Rodman. His more nuanced skills could have gone unappreciated on a mediocre team. But he was both lucky and good, setting the foundation for all the fame that came his way.

He was a good teammate — even when he was a bad teammate

There’s a story in the Jordan Bulls doc that really captures this dichotomy. Early in the 1997-98 season, Rodman had to step up his game (and stay on his best behaviour) to make up for the absence of Scottie Pippen, who was recovering from ankle surgery. Pippen was being a bad teammate himself, by the way: angry at the Bulls for his terrible contract, he delayed the surgery so as not to “f— up my summer.”

Anyway, when Pippen came back, Rodman was spent — and feeling down about not being Jordan’s right-hand man anymore. So he went to coach Phil Jackson with a bold request: give me a full week off to go blow off some steam in Vegas. Jackson granted him 48 hours. Rodman (master of the Overton Window, apparently) probably crammed a week’s worth of partying into that time, which he stretched past the agreed-on 48 hours. But he showed up on time for the first practice after he got back. And he dusted his teammates in a running drill designed to punish him. The point of the story? At the end of the day (or a two-day bender), Jordan and the Bulls knew they could count on him.

He came from nothing

Rodman grew up poor (and shy) in the Dallas housing projects with his mother and two sisters. His dad left when he was three. He was bullied by neighbourhood boys and wasn’t much of an athlete in high school. His bleak realization: “”I thought I would be in jail,” he told ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan for a 2019 story. “I thought I’d be a drug dealer or be dead. Those were my options.”

After he graduated and didn’t get a job right away, Rodman’s mom kicked him out. He spent the next couple of years sleeping on friends’ couches and working odd jobs. He also played basketball every day. And he grew several inches. That got him onto the team at a small college in Oklahoma, where he stood out enough to get picked 27th overall in the 1986 NBA draft by Detroit. When Rodman made his NBA debut that fall, he was already 25 — a late bloomer in every sense.

He wasn’t afraid to say things

Today’s athletes, in general, won’t touch even mildly controversial topics (which is understandable — there’s so much money at stake now). Truly delicate issues like race and their personal sexuality? Forget it. But not Rodman.

After his rookie season ended with the Pistons losing to Boston in the Eastern Conference final, Rodman hot-taked to reporters that Celtics star Larry Bird owed his popularity to the fact that he’s white. The reporters took this to Pistons star Isiah Thomas, who responded with his infamous “If [Bird] were black, he’d be just another good guy” comment. OK, so that’s a little much. Bird is objectively one of the best basketball players ever. But (especially given the makeup of the crowds in the city he played in), did his stardom reach another level because of his race? It’s a debate reasonable people have been having for decades. And a bold thing for Rodman to bring up in public.

Rodman also said some interesting things in his 1996 book Bad As I Wanna Be and a subsequent interview with Oprah. Bear in mind, this is almost two decades before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, and also long before any active player in a major North American sports league had publicly come out. Rodman said he fantasized about being bisexual, though he denied ever acting on those desires. Still, a pretty groundbreaking revelation for the time.

Rodman revealed in his 1996 book that he fantasized about being bisexual. (Jeff Haynes/AFP via Getty Images)

He pulled a lot of stunts

We already covered the Vegas bender. Rodman’s constantly changing hair colour — and the odd designs he’d put in — were always a topic of conversation back in the ’90s. There was also the time he promoted his book by announcing he was getting married… and then showed up to an appearance wearing a wedding dress and explained that he was marrying himself. He also appeared nude (with the help of a strategically placed basketball) on the cover of the book. More recently, Rodman cozied up to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in a (supposed) attempt to broker peace with the United States.

This kind of stuff never sat well with old-school sports fans, many of whom despised Rodman for the way he always seemed to draw attention to himself. But he knew how to push people’s buttons. And how to stand out. Which led to…

He became an actual celebrity

Not many athletes make the leap to mainstream stardom — someone who would be recognized just as easily by your average Entertainment Tonight viewer as a hardcore Sportscenter fan. But Rodman did. He dated Madonna and married model/actress Carmen Electra, who was probably the late-90s version of a Kardashian. He was interviewed by Barbara Walters, which was a big deal at the time. Put it this way: if you asked a sports fan back then to name two Bulls, they might say Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. If you asked your grandma, she’d probably say Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman.

He has a dark side

It wasn’t all fun and games with Rodman. There was that time he kicked a courtside camera guy in an area where you should not kick people. That landed him an 11-game suspension, and he also served six games for headbutting a ref.

A more troubling incident took place in 1993, when a worried friend called the police one night and asked them to look for Rodman. They found him in the Pistons’ parking garage, sitting in his truck with a rifle. Rodman said later that he contemplated suicide before falling asleep.

Rodman also has a history of domestic violence. He and Electra were both arrested and charged with battery after getting into a fight with each other at a Miami hotel in the late ’90s. Rodman was also arrested and charged in 2008 for allegedly hitting his girlfriend at the time. He said he’d had too much to drink that night, and Rodman continues to battle an alcohol addiction.

So Rodman is clearly no saint. But it’s interesting to think about how he might be treated (and covered) differently today. Hopefully, his domestic violence incidents would be taken more seriously, and it’s doubtful he’d get away with as much partying as he did, given how much more disciplined athletes have become about caring for their bodies (and their public images).

But Rodman also may have found more acceptance in today’s world, considering how society has bent toward inclusiveness and a greater understanding of addiction and mental-health issues. Maybe that would have changed his behaviour. Maybe he wouldn’t have become so famous. But maybe he would have found more happiness.

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Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett headline Basketball Hall of Fame class

Kobe Bryant’s resume has yet another entry to prove his greatness: He’s now, officially, a Hall of Famer.

And he’s got plenty of elite company in the 2020 class, one that may be as glitzy as any.

Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, and fellow NBA greats Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett headlined a nine-person group announced Saturday as this year’s class of enshrinees into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

“An amazing class,” Duncan said.

They all got into the Hall in their first year as finalists, as did WNBA great Tamika Catchings. Two-time NBA champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich finally got his call, as did longtime Baylor women’s coach Kim Mulkey, 1,000-game winner Barbara Stevens of Bentley and three-time Final Four coach Eddie Sutton.

They were the eight finalists who were announced in February, and the panel of 24 voters who were tasked to decide who merited selection wound up choosing them all. Also headed to the Hall this year: former FIBA Secretary General Patrick Baumann, selected as a direct-elect by the international committee.

“He was the head of FIBA and this was a way to honour him,” Hall of Fame Chairman and enshrinee Jerry Colangelo said. “It was a special thing done through that committee.”

‘Incredibly special class’

Bryant died about three weeks before the Hall of Fame said — as if there was going to be any doubt — that he was a finalist. Duncan and Garnett were also widely perceived to be locks to be part of this class; they were both 15-time NBA All-Stars, and Bryant was an 18-time selection.

Bryant’s death has been part of a jarring start of the year for basketball: Commissioner Emeritus David Stern died on Jan. 1, Bryant and his daughter Gianna were among nine who died in the crash in late January, and the NBA shut down March 11 as the coronavirus pandemic began to grip the U.S.

“Obviously, we wish that he was here with us to celebrate,” Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s wife, said on the ESPN broadcast of the class announcement. “But it’s definitely the peak of his NBA career and every accomplishment that he had as an athlete was a steppingstone to be here. So we’re incredibly proud of him.”

Bryant was also a five-time champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, just as Duncan was with the San Antonio Spurs.

“This is an incredibly special class, for many reasons,” Colangelo said.

‘Incredible career’

Garnett is the only player in NBA history with at least 25,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 5,000 assists, 1,500 blocks and 1,500 steals. He also was part of Boston’s 2008 NBA title.

“This is the culmination,” Garnett said. “All those hours … this is what you do it for, right here. To be able to be called ‘Hall of Famer’ is everything.”

Duncan spent the entirety of his career with the Spurs, and is now back with the team as an assistant coach under Gregg Popovich.

“It’s kind of the end of the journey here,” Duncan, on the broadcast, said of his enshrinement. “It was an incredible career that I enjoyed so much. To call it a dream come true isn’t even doing any justice to it. I never dreamt I’d be at this point.”

Duncan, Garnett and Bryant were similar in many ways as players: The longevity of their careers, the eye-popping numbers, almost perennial inclusion on award lists. They also shared a dislike for touting personal accomplishments.

But even the Hall would have touched Bryant, those closest to him said.

“No one deserves it more,” Lakers Governor Jeanie Buss said.

Coached for 43 years

Added Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, Bryant’s former agent: “All of us can trust that this Basketball Hall of Fame honour is one Kobe would, and will, deeply appreciate.”

Catchings was a 10-time WNBA all-star and four-time Olympic gold medallist. Tomjanovich, who had overwhelming support from NBA peers who couldn’t understand why it took so long for his selection, was a five time all-star as a player, guided Houston to back-to-back titles and took the 2000 U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal.

“It’s a scary time and families are being shattered by this pandemic. To get something positive right now is so wonderful,” Tomjanovich said.

Mulkey has three NCAA titles as a coach, won two others as a player and had Baylor in position to vie for another championship this season had the global coronavirus pandemic not forced the shutdown of virtually every sport around the globe. Stevens has coached for 43 years and is a five time Division II coach of the year. Sutton won more than 800 games in nearly four decades, and Baumann was one of the most powerful voices in international basketball until his death in 2018.

The enshrinement ceremony in Springfield, Mass., is scheduled for Aug. 29. Should the pandemic force a delay, there is a tentative plan for an October ceremony as well.

For this year, largely because of the star power of this class, the Hall chose to enact a one-year suspension of direct elections from the Veteran’s, Women’s Veteran’s, Early African-American Pioneers and Contributors categories.

With Bryant, Duncan and Garnett as perhaps the top NBA trio to ever enter simultaneously, the Hall wanted to make sure that no enshrinee would be overlooked.

“We didn’t need to water it down,” Colangelo said. “Next year is another year for many.”

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Watch U Sports Final 8 men’s basketball championships

Click on the video player above to watch live action from the U Sports Final 8 men’s basketball championships. 

Friday’s coverage features three more quarter-final matches at 3 p.m., 6 p.m., and 8 p.m. ET. 

Please refresh page after each game to continue watching.

Click here to add CBC Sports’ entire basketball live streaming schedule to your calendar. 

Men’s tournament schedule

Friday – quarter-finals:

  • Western 82, Alberta 72
  • Calgary vs. Carelton (3 p.m. ET)
  • Bishop’s vs. UBC (6 p.m. ET)
  • Ottawa vs. Dalhousie (8 p.m. ET)


Consolation semis

  • TBD vs. TBD (1 p.m. ET)
  • TBD vs. TBD (5 p.m. ET) 



  • TBD vs. TBD (6 p.m. ET)
  • TBD vs. TBD (8 p.m. ET)


Consolation final

  • TBD vs. TBD (2 p.m. ET)


  • Bronze (2 p.m. ET)
  • Gold (8 p.m. ET)

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