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Canadian basketball teams hope summer trips across world end with ticket to Paris

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Basketball has rarely, if ever, been more global than it is at this moment.

The NBA Finals MVP, Nikola Jokic, was born in Serbia, and his sidekick Jamal Murray hails from Kitchener, Ont. The regular-season MVP, Joel Embiid, was born in Cameroon but also holds American and French citizenship. He’s reportedly weighing representing the latter two internationally.

On Thursday, France’s Victor Wembanyama is the overwhelming favourite to be picked first overall by the San Antonio Spurs.

Fittingly, a busy international summer basketball schedule will touch many corners of the world. For Canada’s teams, the ultimate destination is Paris, for next year’s Olympics.

Here’s what lies ahead:

FIBA Men’s Basketball World Cup

The rest of the summer is a mere teaser for this main event, which takes place across Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines beginning Aug. 25. The top two teams from the Americas regions will earn direct berths to the Olympics, with others relegated to last-chance qualifying tournaments.

On paper, Canada, which is still coached by ex-Raptor Nick Nurse, should be the favourite to land that second spot behind the powerhouse U.S. A backcourt pairing of Murray and all-star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander could be the best in the world. Canada also boasts strong wing players in RJ Barrett and Dillon Brooks, though Andrew Wiggins is not among the core 14 players, meaning others would have to drop out for him to be considered.

In a best-case scenario, Canada enters the tournament with the second-most talented team on paper. In the past, though, chemistry has been its undoing, which is why the team has scheduled a pair of two-game exhibition stints in Germany and Spain in mid-August.

And even if the talent and chemistry are there, Canada must still get past either No. 1 Spain or No. 5 France to reach the quarterfinals. Anything less would make automatic Olympic qualification extremely unlikely.

In the women’s 3×3 squad and the men’s and women’s senior teams, Canada owns three legitimate Olympic podiums contenders in Paris. They just have to get there.

WATCH | GM Rowan Barrett discusses path to Paris:

Canada Basketball GM Rowan Barrett on Canada’s pathway to Paris 2024

Host Morgan Campbell is joined by Canada Basketball General Manager Rowan Barrett to discuss the development of the men’s program and what they’ll need to do to qualify for Paris 2024.

FIBA Women’s AmeriCup

Canada’s senior women’s national team is currently training in Toronto ahead of the AmeriCup, which begins July 1 in Mexico. Both finalists at the regional tournament will advance straight to February’s Olympic qualifying tournament, while others must first make it through pre-qualifying events in the fall.

Canada, ranked fifth worldwide, will be bringing a team that skews younger with key players Kia Nurse, Bridget Carleton and Laeticia Amihere in the midst of the WNBA season.

In her first season with the Storm and coming off a knee injury that cost her a full season, Nurse is averaging nearly seven points per game in 10 starts with the Seattle Storm, who are coached by Noelle Quinn, the lead assistant on the Canadian team. Carleton has struggled to find her shooting form coming off the bench for Minnesota, while the rookie Amihere has received limited minutes in Atlanta.

Alongside veterans such as Kayla Alexander and Shay Colley, the opportunity will be there at the AmeriCup for players like Prosper and 16-year-old Syla Swords, who led the team in points during a recent friendly loss to Japan in Victoria, to earn the trust of head coach Victor Lapeña. UConn’s Aaliyah Edwards, who could be in the WNBA next season, should also be handed a much bigger role within the team structure.

Canada reached the AmeriCup final four straight times — winning twice and losing twice — before a fourth-place finish at the 2021 edition in Puerto Rico.

3×3 Women’s Series

Denied even an attempt to qualify for the sport’s Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020 due to a quirky rule limiting most countries to one gender, Canada’s women’s 3×3 team does not want to leave their Paris hopes in doubt.

The team of sisters Katherine and Michelle Plouffe, plus Paige Crozon and Kacie Bosch, did not lose a single Women’s Series game together en route to the 2022 championship. But none of that counts toward Paris qualifying. Their 2023 season began with a slight speed bump, falling to defending champion France at the buzzer in a tough quarterfinal draw at the World Cup.

While the top three FIBA-ranked countries at the end of the season will automatically qualify for Paris, a complicated system makes it more likely Canada will have to advance through one of three qualifying tournaments.

Canada’s regular season begins Friday in Orleans, France, with games against Azerbaijan (8 a.m. ET) and Italy (9:45 a.m. ET). Live coverage of the entire tournament through Sunday is available on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. Later stops will take the team to Edmonton, Montreal and Quebec City ahead of the September Finals in Mongolia.

WATCH | Canada falls to France at 3×3 World Cup:

FIBA Women’s 3×3 World Cup Vienna Quarterfinals: Canada vs. France

Watch Canada face France in the quarterfinals at the 2023 FIBA Women’s 3×3 World Cup in Vienna.

NBA draft

Wembanyama, the 19-year-old listed in some places at seven-foot-five, is a generational talent who’s provoked hyperbole calling him the best prospect in the history of team sports.

Lower down the draft, two Canadians appear solid bets to be picked in the first round. Leonard Miller, of Scarborough, Ont., took an untraditional route to the NBA, skipping college to go pro with the G League’s developmental team. The sif-foot-10 forward delivered an impressive season, averaging a double-double.

Montreal’s Olivier-Maxence Prosper was one of the biggest risers on draft boards — a defensively solid wing player with an improving jumper, and he has garnered comparisons to the Toronto Raptors’ OG Anunoby. Perhaps a strong rookie season prompts consideration for Canada’s theoretical 2024 Olympic team, where he could join his sister Cassandre Prosper, a candidate for the women’s team, in Paris.

Meanwhile, the Raptors hold the No. 13 pick after losing in the play-in round last season and could look different next season with Fred VanVleet and Jakob Poeltl headed to free agency. After replacing championship coach Nick Nurse with first-timer Darko Rajakovic, vice-chairmain Masai Ujiri could opt for a full rebuild around 2021 rookie of the year Scottie Barnes. But he may also choose to stay the course and bank on internal improvement with work around the edges.

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