Road to Rio gets tougher: Wiggins opts out of playing for Canada at Olympic qualifying tournament

Jun 14 2016, 3:17 pm

Team Canada’s men’s basketball team’s chances for qualifying for this summers Olympic games in Brazil have taken a huge hit.

The first pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, and Canada’s best player, Andrew Wiggins has decided not to play in the Olympic qualifying tournament set for July 5 to 10 in Manila. The former NBA Rookie of the Year also confirmed he would not play even if the team did make it to the Olympics for the first time since 2000.

Wiggins released this statement through his agent Bill Duffy.

After much thought, consideration and speaking with my family, I will not be participating in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament with the Canadian Men’s National Team in July. As my third NBA season approaches, I understand my increased role with the Timberwolves and dedication to the upcoming season must have my total focus. We are building a championship contending team, which has always been my goal. This was definitely not an easy decision and I fully support and wish Team Canada nothing but success this summer.

It is not uncommon for current NBA players to pass on playing for their country. Steve Nash never wore the red and white again after the team missed out on qualifying for the 2004 games in Athens, and he retired after the 2014-15 season.

Usually, the main reasons players choose not to play are: injuries, free agency, or fatigue due to a deep playoff run. Wiggins is healthy, has a contract and his team didn’t make it to the postseason, making this decision a hard one to swallow for basketball fans across Canada.

In his statement, Wiggins says he wants to focus on next season, which will be his third, and he feels the T-Wolves are building a championship squad built around himself and Karl Anthony-Towns.

Wiggins led Canada in last year’s FIBA America’s tournament averaging 15.1 points a game before being upset by Venezuela in the semi-finals where a win would’ve guaranteed the team a berth in Brazil this summer.

Team Canada will now have to win the six-team tournament, which also features France, New Zeland, Senegal, Turkey, and the host Phillippines.

“We’re looking forward to getting into the gym and preparing for competition,” said head coach Jay Triano in a media release. “We need to focus on the preparation – one practice at a time – and get ready for a tough tournament against some of the best in the world.”

Taking a look at the competition, France is the clear favourite featuring three current NBA players, Nicoals Batum of the Charlotte Hornets as well as Tony Parker and Boris Diaw of the San Antonio Spurs. Turkey should also be strong.

Where does Canada stand? The team will be led by Raptors point guard Cory Joseph, while Tyler Ennis of the Milwaukee Bucks and big man Joel Anthony of the Detroit Pistons also look to be locks to make the team.

“Given the time of year, player availability is always changing. We’re continuing to talk to teams and players may become available as the summer progresses,” said Steve Nash, general manager, men’s national team. “Playing for your country is an honour, we have a deep pool of talent who are committed to playing for Canada and we’re ready to get to work.”

The rest of the invitees for training camp are a mix of basketball veterans playing overseas in Europe, young up-and-comers from the university ranks, and as high schooler Shai Alexander.

Looks for 7’5 centre Sim Bhullar to make the squad, as well as Melvin Ejim, Kitsilano secondary grad Levon Kendall, and lights-out shooter Brady Heslip.

The full list of players invited is below:

Shai Alexander G 6’4 Hamilton, ON Hamilton Heights Christian Academy
Joel Anthony F 6’9 Montreal, QC Detroit Pistons
RJ Barrett G 6’7 Mississauga, ON Montverde Academy
Sim Bhullar F 7’5 Toronto, ON Raptors 905
Dillon Brooks F 6’7 Mississauga, ON Oregon Ducks
Chris Boucher F 6’10 Montreal, ON Oregon Ducks
Jason Calliste G 6’2 Toronto, ON Barons Kvartals Riga
Melvin Ejim F 6’6 Toronto, ON Reyer Venezia
Tyler Ennis G 6’2 Brampton, ON Milwaukee Bucks
Brady Heslip G 6’2 Burlington, ON Pallacanestro Cantu
Tyson Hinz F 6’7 Ottawa, ON Landstede Basketball
Cory Joseph G 6’3 Pickering, ON Toronto Raptors
Corey Johnson G 6’5 Ottawa, ON Harvard University
Owen Klassen F 6’10 Kingston, ON Phoenix Hagen
Levon Kendall F 6’10 Vancouver, BC Movistar Estudiantes
Naz Mirtou-Long G 6’4 Mississauga, ON Iowa St. Cyclones
Dyshawn Pierre G 6’6 Whitby, ON Dayton Flyers
Philip Scrubb G 6’3 Ottawa, ON Fraport Skyliners
Thomas Scrubb G 6’6 Ottawa, ON Giessen 46ers

Looking at the list, the team will struggle to score points without a number one scoring option. They will have to play a disciplined team game, relying more on the system to get open looks implemented by head coach Jay Triano.

The silver lining for Canada is that players can still be added for the actual qualifying tournament. Some of the top players from around the country have not completely ruled out participating. The list includes Boston Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, Orlando Magic forward Andrew Nicholson, and Nik Stauskus of the Philadelphia 76ers. Another omission is Jamal Murray of Kentucky, who is expected to be a top-5 pick in this years NBA draft.

It will be a tough road to Brazil for the team as is, but as we know in the world of sports, anything is possible.

Here is the full schedule of games for Canada this summer:

2016 Summer Schedule

June 10-16 Training Toronto, ON
June 17-29
Training & Exhibition
  • June 20: Game vs Croatia
  • June 23: Game vs Croatia
  • June 25: Game vs China
  • June 26: Game vs TBC
  • June 29: Game vs Puerto Rico
Croatia & Italy
July 5-10 Olympic Qualifying Tournament Manila, Philippines
Jas KangJas Kang

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