Canada’s best basketball player doesn’t want to play for his country.
It’s an unfortunate turn on an otherwise feel-good story, as Canada is producing more great basketball talent than ever before. When Canada opens training camp in Vancouver on June 20 in preparation for a pair of exhibition games against China in British Columbia, their roster will be as loaded with NBA talent as it has ever been. It’s only going to get better too, as RJ Barrett and other members of the world champion U19 national team matures.
The games in Vancouver and Victoria are a precursor to FIBA Basketball World Cup qualifiers in Toronto (June 29) and Ottawa (July 2), and they’ll be talented teams. Eight NBA players are on Canada’s training camp roster, including impact players like Jamal Murray, Kelly Olynyk, and Tristan Thompson. But it’s the big name that isn’t playing that’s garnering most of the attention.
Andrew Wiggins, Canada’s best basketball player and the highest-paid athlete in our country’s history, is sitting this one out.
Wiggins last played for his country at the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship, a tournament where Canada suffered a heartbreaking one-point loss to Venezuela in the semi-final. A win by the heavily-favoured Canadians would have qualified them for the Rio 2016 Olympics.
When Team Canada reconvened for the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament in 2016, Wiggins declined his invite. Canada lost to France by nine points in the final – their last chance to earn an Olympic berth.
Here’s how Wiggins explained his decision at the time:
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.
Wiggins’ reasoning that his dedication to the Timberwolves – a non-playoff team the season prior – was hard to understand. But with contract negotiations on the horizon – he signed a five-year, $148 million extension four months later – perhaps it was for the best.
But to sit out again? There has to be another reason.
A report by TSN’s Josh Lewenberg shed some light Wiggins’ reluctance to play for Canada, and it has to do with the coach.
Canada Basketball released its deepest and most talented roster ever, but Andrew Wiggins was absent from it, once again. Sources say a rift between him and Jay Triano is among the reasons why: https://t.co/ardw5buACC pic.twitter.com/UrYwa6C1nl
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) May 28, 2018
A reported rift between Wiggins and head coach Jay Triano developed in 2015 in the elimination game. Triano benched the then-20-year-old in the final moments of the game, playing veteran Aaron Doornekamp in his place. Making matters worse, Wiggins’ replacement was called for a foul that set-up the winning free throws by Venezuela.
Wiggins was the team’s leading scorer in the tournament, averaging 15.1 points per game, but scored just nine points in 26 minutes in the pivotal contest.
Lewenberg also reports that Nik Stauskas, who also hasn’t played for the program since 2015, was also unhappy with how he was used in the FIBA Americas tournament.
There’s still a chance that Wiggins and Stauskas could rejoin the team down the road, but it’s clear there needs to be some fence-mending first.
Qualifying for the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup is vitally important for Canada’s Olympic chances, as the top-eight teams in the tournament will book their ticket for the Tokyo 2020 Games. Canada has not qualified for the Olympics in men’s basketball since Sydney 2000.