Team Canada hopes familiarity and experience will pay dividends at the upcoming FIBA World Cup.
With a number of the country’s top talent absent, Canada will be leaning on its chemistry, compatibility and international resumes to succeed.
Luckily, key players such as Cory Joseph and Kelly Olynyk have been on the court together since they were kids and others like Melvin Ejim, Brady Hesli, Phil Scrubb and Kevin Pangos have spent plenty of court-time together over the years.
Just one summer ago 12 of the players gathered in Toronto for training camp and competed alongside each other either in scrimmages or in friendlies against China.
“It definitely helps,” the veteran Joseph said of having familiarity. “We learn a lot quicker. Obviously, you know, we haven’t played together in some time, some of us, (but) guys like me, Kelly and Melvin, one day, like yesterday, that’s all we needed, now we’re back on track.
“We’re coming along quick. We’ve all either played with each other at one point in time or we’ve all watched each others games.”
Not surprisingly, Joseph, who signed a lucrative free agent deal with the Sacramento Kings last month, pairs particularly well with Olynyk, the Miami Heat big man.
“Kelly has a very high (basketball) IQ and I would like to think I do, as well. So it’s very easy to play with guys like (that),” he said. “You don’t have to waste no more energy out there than we have to, because he gets it. We’ve been playing together forever now, and our games fit each other and suit each other.
“A lot of basketball is just about continuity,” Ejim added. “And when you can get that (you get) off to a good start, when you have guys who you’re familiar with, that you know how to play, just tactically knowing where guys are going to be, spacing, and then just about the whole culture is great because you can rely on guys who have been here all the time, who’ve been a part of it, who know what they’re doing, so I think it’s been really great. I think we’ve hit the ground running.”
YOUNGSTERS IMPRESSING NURSE
Canada’s kids are all right. That’s the word from senior men’s head coach Nick Nurse and some of his veteran players like ex-Raptor Joseph.
The national team is only a couple of days into camp ahead of some exhibition games heading into next months FIBA World Cup in China, but some of the most youthful participants have already made their mark.
That includes 21-year-old Oshae Brissett, a former Syracuse star who has a training camp invite with his hometown Toronto Raptors and Aurora, Ontario’s Andrew Nembhard, a 19-year-old who is about to embark on his second season with the Florida Gators.
“Nembhard is a surprise to me,” Nurse said on Tuesday after practice. “I’ve seen him, so I shouldn’t be that surprised. He’s been really good. Really good … Oshae’s been great. Really surprising, he’s been great in these two practices.”
Given the team projects to be a bit light at the wing, Nurse said both Nembhard and Brissett could find some time out of position at small forward should they make the cut.
Nembhard will get a chance to show what he can do in “meaningful minutes” against Nigeria in Toronto on Wednesday and in Winnipeg on Friday. Is there a chance the youngster sticks around for the trip to China?
“Yeah, he’s played great in two days, a very good chance he’s out there playing,” Nurse said.
HIGH PRAISE FOR EJIM
It still surprised many that Ejim has never gotten an NBA shot, but it’s clear he is highly valued by the Canadian program.
“Melvin, he’s hard work and energy, in, out,” Nurse said. “You never really know what you’re going to get. He’s kind of an x-factor type of guy. I like him. I’ve liked him for a long time. He went to Iowa State. That always helps, too. I favour him a little bit,” joked the Iowa native.
“Melvin’s also another one of the heart and souls of this program,” Joseph said.
“He’s been doing it year in and year out. He’s been a key, key, key factor in any success that we’ve had, and he’ll continue to be.” Ejim said he was looking forward to Wednesday’s game (7 P.M. at Ryerson’s Mattamy Centre) and Friday in Winnipeg.
“Every time you get an opportunity to play in Canada, it’s great, family, friends, country, support, it’s amazing, growing the sport it’s great, and I think for us it’s good to just kinda. . . you learn by playing games,” Ejim said.
“Practice is great, but once you get out and you’re competing against other people, you know what to do, that’s when you really grow and you learn as a team. I think we’re going to have some really great opportunities to do that about some really good teams.”
AROUND THE RIM
Joseph on if he ever gets sick of playing for Canada? “No, it doesn’t get old… It’s an honour. I’ve been doing it for a long time to have a chance to make it to the Olympics and we have another chance this summer so we’ve gotta go out there and get it,” he said. “To make it (to the Olympics) It would mean a lot. You know, when I was growing up, I watched last time they were in the Olympics with (Steve) Nash and guys like Rowan (Barrett). I watched them a lot and that inspired me to play basketball and work on my game to hopefully one day be there in the Olympics. So it would mean a lot. It would be a dream come true.” … Phil Scrubb on what he likes about the team early on: “I think we’re pretty versatile. We’ve got a lot of bigs that can play on the perimeter and shoot the ball, guys like Kelly and (Kyle Wiltjer) will be handling the ball a lot and opening things up for other guys,” Scrubb said.