What was supposed to be the summer of all summers for Basketball Canada hit a major speed bump as the team gathered for the first time Monday.
The issue, as it always seems to be when it comes to the national basketball team, was the potential roster vs. the roster Nick Nurse and company will actually have to choose from.
The potential list was reason for excitement. There was high-scoring Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, up-and-coming point guard Shai Gilgeous Alexander, his cousin Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who was just selected 17th overall by the Brooklyn Nets before being moved to New Orleans, Memphis scoring guard Dillon Brooks and Cavs three-point specialist Nik Stauskas to name a few.
All are no longer on the roster due to either injury, contract requirements or personal circumstances.
Still with the team and now carrying a much heavier load are NBA veterans and national team regulars Cory Joseph and Kelly Olynyk.
Joining Murrray and Gilgeous-Alexander on the non-participant list are Trey Lyles, Brandon Clarke and Mfiondu Kabengele.
In the days leading up to the camp opener, the list had already been shortened with news that R.J. Barrett, son of team general manager Rowan Barrett and No. 3 overall pick in this years draft to the New York Knicks, would not be playing due to a strained calf suffered during the Knicks summer league.
He joined Andrew Wiggins, who previously announced he would not be playing, as well as Cleveland big man Tristan Thompson and another big man in Dallas’ Dwight Powell.
Initially, the list of invitees to the camp was a robust 29. By Monday morning, that number was down to 19.
The remaining 19 though refuse to let the absences dampen their enthusiasm for the upcoming FIBA World Cup.
“Everybody’s got their reasons,” Olynyk said. “To each their own, they’ve gotta take care of themselves and whatever they need to take care of. But for the guys that are here, come ready to play, come ready to work. Whenever you get the opportunity and you feel like you can help, you come and help.”
Olynyk, like all the players who spoke yesterday, said he would never blame a player for opting out.
“I mean, obviously you want everybody to play if they can,” he said. “Like I said, everybody has their own reasons and you can’t fault them for those, they’re looking out for whether it’s their health, their careers, who knows what it might be, their families, there might be some kind of situation we have no clue about, so you have to respect that and everything that goes into it. But obviously, we would love to have every single person here and put the best roster we could.,
For Olynyk the reasons to be a part of Team Canada far outweigh any potential downsides.
“It’s been awesome for me,” Olynyk said of his international experience. “Just gaining, obviously, experience, confidence, be able to come out here and play high-level basketball to get ready for a season. Sometimes people look at it the other way where it’s draining you, it’s long, it’s taking away, you’re gonna be tired during your season, but you’ve gotta manage that, and you can tune up for your season and know you’re gonna be able to hit the ground running.
“It’s a great way to work on your game, build stuff, and you know, oftentimes you’re gonna get to do a lot more in this setting than you would on certain teams in the NBA or overseas or wherever it is, so you’ll be able to build and grow and keep getting better.”
Murray, who would have been a huge difference-maker if only because he can create his own offence, was at the practice facility for the first day of camp but only to explain his injury — he tweaked an ankle — and to reconnect with his teammates from tournaments past.
“Just tweaked my ankle so that kind of hinders me a little in my training and preparation for the season, just looking to get back out healthy … do what you gotta do,” Murray said. “It’s disappointing, but it is what it is.”
The man tasked with putting this team together had no interest in talking about the no-shows, preferring to focus on what they have to work with.
“I think we have players that are here, that are sacrificing,” Barrett said. “I think we have some that are consistently sacrificing over time, some of our better players. We’re excited to see this group. We’re excited with Nick at the helm. Our goals have not changed. I think it will be the same. We’re gonna go ahead and try to make the country proud.”
The team will have a couple of more training days and then play its first exhibition game Wednesday night against Nigeria at Ryerson’s Mattamy Centre.
The team will then play one more exhibition in Winnipeg before heading overseas for a series of exhibitions against Australia, New Zealand the U.S. before opening the World Championships begin on Aug 31 in Dongguan, China, in a pool with Lithuania, Australia and Senegal.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019