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Canada Basketball CEO wants sport to produce next ‘national moment’ at Paris Olympics


Canada Basketball president and CEO Michael Bartlett has lofty expectations.

“Without being so bold as to promise it, as a team sport going into the next Summer Olympics and definitely into 2028, Canada Basketball could be in a position to be bringing home four amazing stories with four amazing medals,” Bartlett told CBC Sports.

That would include podium appearances by men’s and women’s teams in traditional five-on-five basketball, plus two more in 3×3.

Only the women’s five-on-five team qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, failing to even reach the knockout round.

But Bartlett’s confidence isn’t far-fetched. The women’s five-on-five team remains ranked fourth worldwide, while the men may boast the best on-paper roster outside of the U.S.

In 3×3, the women are coming off a silver medal at the World Cup and a victory at the World Series stop in Edmonton. The men are ranked 24th.

“I’d love the next ‘Where were you when’ moment to be a basketball moment, a national basketball moment,” Bartlett said. “You’ve got the 2010 Olympics [Sidney Crosby’s golden goal], you’ve got the ’72 Summit Series [Paul Henderson’s game-winning goal against the Soviets]. You’ve got Mike Weir’s Masters win, you’ve got [Bianca] Andreescu’s [US Open]. I’ve got to add basketball to that list.”

That moment, realistically, remains two years away, attainable at Paris 2024.

Women working toward World Cup

The largest remaining event on the 2022 calendar is the women’s World Cup, which begins in late September in Australia.

Some members of the national team gathered recently for a training camp in New York, where they also participated in a pair of scrimmages against the third-ranked Australians.

The young Canadian squad lost both games. Still, it was an additional opportunity to get more familiar with one another and new head coach Victor LaPeña.

“That’s an example of investing in something that we wouldn’t normally invest in or making sure that we had the funds to invest. … That’s what building winning programs looks like,” said Bartlett, who took over the role from Glen Grunwald in September 2021 after a decade with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.

Natalie Achonwa, left, and Bridget Carleton, right, seen above at Tokyo 2020, are the only two Canadians to play in the WNBA so far this season. (Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images)

The World Cup presents a chance for Canada to make good on a missed opportunity in Tokyo and to prove that it’s truly the fourth-best team in the world.

Bartlett, though, says it’s all about building toward the Olympics.

“Not to say we’re giving ourselves a pass on the World Cup, but all these things that [LaPeña is] doing leading into the World Cup and through the World Cup are really pointing towards being ready to win in Paris,” he said.

In Tokyo, Canada lost to No. 2 Spain and No. 10 Serbia while beating No. 13 Korea.

In a rejigged format offering less margin for error than previous years, it was that opening loss to Serbia in which Canada shot 28 per cent in the first half, and five for 24 per cent overall from three-point range that ultimately proved the dagger in Canada’s medal hopes.

It’s the type of loss Bartlett said he could live with as long as he’s comfortable with the full complement of tools provided to the team.

“What we’re trying to do with our resourcing plan is to remove those excuses so that it just comes down to talent, because if it just comes down to talent, we’re going to win more games than we lose. That’s just the reality of it,” Bartlett said.

2023 key year for men

That’s true for the men’s team, too.

At the beginning of the summer, a group of 14 players — including the likes of NBA stars Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jamal Murray and RJ Barrett — committed to head coach Nick Nurse’s national team through Paris.

In the first opportunity to play at World Cup qualifying in July, only Gilgeous-Alexander suited up. Murray and Barrett, whose father Rowan is the general manager, received excused absences.

WATCH | Gilgeous-Alexander leads Canadian World Cup qualifying win:

Gilgeous-Alexander leads Canada to dominant win over Dominican Republic

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored a game-high 32 points as Canada rolled over D.R. in its FIBA World Cup qualifier in Hamilton.

Bartlett said the organization is “laser-focused” on an upcoming August window. He doesn’t expect significant participation for September’s AmeriCup, which bears no qualifying importance.

“I think what you’re going to see is a mix of next-generation guys that will be part of our system for a long time that aren’t on the senior team right now. And then perhaps a mixture of some of our winter core guys just to kind of give some veteran and FIBA presence,” he said.

The men’s World Cup, scheduled for August 2023, will be the next true test for the program and a chance to qualify for Paris.

3×3 a ‘community objective’

In 3×3, the women’s World Cup silver came with limited support staff and no head coach — a role Canada Basketball said recently it is working to fill.

The sport was only introduced to the Olympics in Tokyo, and has only had an ongoing FIBA series since 2010.

Thus, Bartlett’s focus is on growing the sport from the grassroots.

“We’ve got lightning in a bottle with this sport and with the talent pipeline we have in our country that we can expedite our high-performance podium credential really quickly,” he said.

WATCH | Canadian women earn silver at 3×3 World Cup:

FIBA 3×3 Basketball World Cup Women’s gold medal game: Canada vs. France

Watch Canada square off with France for the gold medal at the FIBA 3×3 Basketball World Cup in Antwerp, Belgium.

Bartlett said Canada Basketball is in conversation with USports about adding 3×3 as a varsity sport at some point. He said the federation is also formulating a plan for developing 3×3 players either solely within the format or concurrently with five-on-five.

“The challenge that we’ve got right now is there’s so much to do with the new vertical that was, quite frankly, by FIBA and kind of by the IOC was kind of dropped on federations as like a high-performance objective. But for it to be a sustained, high-performance objective, it needs to be a community objective as well,” Bartlett said.

With eyes on four Olympic medals, Bartlett said it’s now incumbent on the federation to provide all the necessary resources.

“I’m OK to lose at the end of the day because we got beat. If we didn’t resource against that team appropriately and that contributed to us getting beat, then that’s on the organization.”


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