“Soon” – Andrew Wiggins. Source: @NBAcom on twitter
So far three nations, The United States, Brazil and Australia have booked their tickets to Rio for the 2016 Olympic Games basketball tournament. At the time of writing, both Nigeria and Angola are a few hours away from fighting it out for another spot as they will face off in the Afrobasket Final.
Tomorrow marks the start of one of the most interesting FIBA Americas Championship in recent memory. 10 of the best basketballing nations in North and South America will ascend on Mexico with the hopes of both winning the Championship and taking out one of the two Olympic Qualifying spots up for grabs.
Brazil, perennial FIBA Americas heavyweights will be hosting the 2016 Olympics and don’t need to use the tournament as an avenue for qualification and because of this, have rested their big-name players such as Leandro Barbosa, Anderson Varejao, Nene, Tiago Splitter, Marcelinho Huertas, Bruno Cabooclo and Cristiano Felicio. Instead, they will take a team, lead by super fun guard Vitor Benite, that mirrors the one that recently won the 2015 PanAm Games gold medal in Toronto.
It’s been a long 15 years since the Canadian National Team has participated in the Olympics. That year, future two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash lead the Maple Leafs to a seventh place finish.
Getty Images: Steve got Nashty in Sydney.
For this current crop of Canadian players, not only is the weight of a nation on their shoulders to qualify, but there’s a growing expectation that they can go at least four better than Nash’s team and actually contend for a medal in Rio in twelve months time.
Today, Canada confirmed it’s squad for FIBA Americas, with Utah Jazz 2015 Draft Pick and BC Žalgiris guard Olivier Hanlan the unfortunate last cut. The team features nine players with NBA talent in Anthony Bennett, Melvin Ejim, Cory Joseph, Andrew Nicholson, Kelly Olynyk, Dwight Powell, Robert Sacre, Nik Stauskas and 2015 NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins along with the Euro-based talent of Aaron Doornekamp, Brady Heslip and Phil Scrubb.
Canada’s preparation heading into this important tournament has been pretty much faultless. Nicholson and Bennett announced they are future forces to wreckon with at the FIBA level by leading Canada to silver at the PanAm Games and then the #FullSquad were undefeated finished undefeated against Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Brazil, and Argentina to take out the 2015 FIBA Marchand Continental Cup in Puerto Rico.
Wigging was undoubtedly the star for Canada, averaging 14.5ppg for the Tourney along with this three fire emoji post-card to J.J. Barea‘s family:
For Canada to be successful in this FIBA Americas Tournament, all eyes will be on Wiggins. No one seemed to be able to stop him during the warm-up tournament but we’ll see him getting a lot more defensive attention this time around.
It’s not all Wiggins though, this is arguably the deepest team that Canada has ever fielded. Cory-Jo can now be considered a veteran of the National Team and will take advantage of the lack of decent defensive point guards in the tournament along with his own ability to shut down defenders on the other end of the floor.
As mentioned before, whilst his NBA career hasn’t got off to the start he had wanted it to, Anthony Bennett averaged 7.5rpg in the FIBA Marchand Continental Cup along with leading the PanAm Games in rebounds averaging 9.4rpg. His ability to get create second chance opportunities and create fast break situations for the athletic Canadian guards makes him a very valuable piece in this fast-paced Canadian system.
Some of the other teams with hopes of taking one of the two qualifying spots for Rio are Mexico, Puerto Rico and Argentina.
Defending Champions Mexico, lead by Gustavo Ayon and Jorge Gutierrez will look to build on their Cinderella run to the Round of 16 in the 2014 FIBA World Cup. Home court advantage throughout the tournament means that they’ll definitely not be an easy-beat.
With no Manu Ginobili, Pablo Prigioni, Carlos Delfino and Fabricio Oberto suiting up for Argentina, this tournament will be seen as the ‘Changing of the Guard’ for the perennial FIBA World Cup and Olympics medal contenders. They’ll rely heavily on Luis Scola and reigning Euroleague Final Four MVP Andrés Nocioni. This team is super fun to watch at the moment… Well… If you’re a Scola fan that is. In the FIBA Marchand Continental Cup, Scola lead the team in points, rebounds, assists and blocks.
Puerto Rico are always a team that you can’t take too lightly. Once again, J.J. Barea will lead the charge along with the super-fun small forward Ángel Daniel Vassallo who if the Puerto Rican’s can cause a few upsets, may be one of the big names to come out of this tournament.
The FIBA Americas Tournament kicks off on August 31st with the final on September 12th.
Group A features Mexico, Panama, Dominican Republic, Brazil and Uruguay.
Group B features Canada, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Argentina and Venezuela.
Top four from each pool qualify for the second round, with the top four advancing to the Final Round and the 5th (and if Brazil are ranked higher 6th) placed teams automatically qualifying for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.