The stakes are high for Canada’s men’s basketball team.
Canada’s hope is to earn an Olympic berth in Paris 2024 and participate in the Games for the first time since 2000 at this men’s basketball world championship. But Friday’s loss to Brazil in the opening game of Round 2 left a talented Canadian team in a precarious position.
The 69-65 loss, which followed a promising start in group play that saw Canada leapfrog France, Lebanon and Latvia, means the team now faces a must-win game against defending champion Spain at 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday in Jakarta. , Indonesia.
A repeat of their win over Spain in an exhibition game in mid-August to improve to 4-1 will be the Canadians’ quarter-final reward.
A loss will spell the end of the road for the team led by head coach Jordi Fernandez, while likely sending Canada to a last-chance qualifying tournament to reach the Olympics.
Fernandez, who also serves as head coach for the Sacramento Kings, was once part of the Spanish program as an assistant coach for the men’s under-19 district team.
The 40-year-old, who is enjoying his first major tournament as Canada’s head coach after being hired in late June to replace Nick Nurse, also said Canada didn’t deserve to win on Friday. Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander agreed.
“They wanted it a little bit more. It really hurt us, especially on the rebound,” the Oklahoma City Thunder guard said. “We lose, we learn from it. We move on.”
‘The Right Group of Boys’
Gilgeous-Alexander has established herself as the top scorer in the tournament so far, leading Canada in points per game with 22.3, which ranks sixth overall in the competition.
The 25-year-old native of Hamilton, Ont. he is also Canada’s top player in rebounds (7.3) and assists (4.8).
“We’ve all played a lot of games and we’ve all been in situations where we really need to win to achieve our goals,” said Luguentz Dort, who also plays for the Thunder and is averaging 12 points and five. rebounds for Canada.
“We have to have a short memory. Spain is a good team, we have played them before.” [in exhibition]. We need to get together, watch a movie. We have bigger goals and we have the right group of guys to do it. We’re all going to lock in and take it game by game. We will be ready for the next game.”
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Canada will also look to rely on the skill and physicality of Dwight Powell of the Dallas Mavericks and Kelly Olynyk of the Utah Jazz, along with the defensive work of Dillon Brooks of the Houston Rockets.
The two best-placed American teams at the World Championships automatically qualify for Paris. Besides Canada, the USA, Puerto Rico and Brazil are still alive and will take the court on Sunday with hopes of advancing to the quarterfinals.
Spain are also 3-1, having beaten Ivory Coast, Brazil and Iran before falling to Latvia on Friday to snap their 11-match winning streak in the competition.
But the internationally experienced Spanish team has talent in the likes of former Toronto Raptors forward Juancho Hernangómez, his brother and EuroBasket MVP Willy, Usman Garuba, who last played for the Houston Rockets, and Santiago Aldama of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Falling to Canada would not only be a disappointment for the end of Spain’s title defense, but would also represent the nation’s first loss at the FIBA World Cup since 1990.
Head coach Sergio Scariolo is one reason why Spain can feel confident ahead of the do-or-diet clash.
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The 62-year-old from Brescia, Italy won silver at London 2012 and bronze at Rio 2016 over two games with Spain to claim a gold medal at the 2019 FIBA World Cup and four EuroBasket titles.
Scariolo believes Canada presents a solid challenge and is not shy about boasting a dynamic, versatile and exciting Canadian team.
“This is a team that is probably above us. Physicality, athleticism, NBA experience,” Scariolo said. “What’s in your hands, do your best. And if your best isn’t enough, you shake their hands and wish them luck for the rest of the championship.”
Scariola’s Canadian connection
One of the best moments of Scariola’s career came with the Raptors when he debuted as an assistant head coach in Toronto’s winning season in 2018-2019 before leaving in 2021.
“The connection is huge,” Scariolo told Eurohoops of his time in Canada. “Canada [has] a very big place in my heart. I had some amazing years there, not to mention winning a championship.”
When tipping the ball, everything will be on the line for both teams.
“We’re in the same hotel. We’ve played in tournaments. We spend a lot of days together. Their coach is my friend. Their assistant coach is my friend,” Scariolo said.
“Obviously this is a game we want to win and a game they want to win. They are very good and we will try to be as good as them.”
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