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Shot at history: Canada Basketball could have 3 medal threats at Paris Olympics

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After clinching an Olympic spot with a win over Spain at the World Cup, Canada Basketball president Mike Bartlett expected the men’s team to party.

Not so.

“What do the guys do? They take to the team room and have like a Mario Kart tournament until 4 in the morning,” Bartlett recalled to CBC Sports. “They’re laser focused on being good people, having fun with each other and getting their job done.”

Canada wound up winning bronze — the first time the men’s team has ever reached the World Cup podium.

But the video-game celebration reveals that the players understand the main goal: Olympic gold. Canada could have two other basketball medal contenders in Paris if the women’s five-on-five and 3×3 teams get through qualifying as expected.

Bartlett said he envisions those future moments as Canadian rallying cries.

“We talk about a lot around the office, working backwards from the moment that we see in our head and quite frankly, winning gold while the world is watching, putting our flag in the ground in the basketball court,” he said.

“Internationally, our men, our women, our women’s 3×3 team all have that capability. There will be an opportunity for us to make history at the Olympics with our teams.”

WATCH | Bartlett confident in program ahead of Paris Olympics:

President of Canada Basketball believes national teams can make history at Olympics | CBC Sports

Mike Bartlett is the President & CEO of Canada Basketball and has seen the program grow exponentially. He believes the national teams can shock the world during the 2024 Olympics.

Divergent paths to Paris

While the men’s team is already in the Olympics for the first time since 2000, the women’s five-on-five team must advance through a pre-qualifying tournament in November, likely in Puerto Rico, per Bartlett. The next step would be Olympic qualifiers in November, where 12 of 16 teams will move on to Paris. Those are set to take place in Brazil, Belgium, Hungary and China.

Despite winning the past two Women’s Series Finals, Canada’s 3×3 team is still ranked fifth, outside of an Olympic qualifying spot. It has two chances to book its first-ever Olympic berth at separate qualifying events in May and June.

“Based on the other teams that will be there we know we’ve got a chance, we control our own destiny. We win and we’re in and we will be ready for that that challenge,” Bartlett said. “But it does seem silly to me that the team that just won back-to-back Women’s Series championships doesn’t automatically get into the Olympics.”

Each of the three teams will take different paths to Paris with about 10 months to go, but a common theme will be continued chemistry.

While the women’s squads are forced into qualifiers, most of the men’s roster — including head coach Jordi Fernandez — will see each other throughout the NBA season.

Nine of the core 14 players on the men’s roster played at the World Cup, but others like Andrew Wiggins, who isn’t a member of that group, and Jamal Murray, who is, will likely have more incentive to play at the Olympics.

The dilemma leaves questions of talent vs. commitment for Canada Basketball decision makers.

“We’ve got the athletes that we know have been committed to us and tough decisions have to be made as we go into the next major competition,” Bartlett said.

“But ultimately, we will be fielding another team of Canadians who have shown each other commitment and shown the program commitment and it’s our job to show that commitment back to them.”

WATCH | Canada wins bronze at men’s World Cup:

Canada wins 1st FIBA World Cup medal by beating U.S. for bronze

The Canadians needed overtime to get by the Americans to secure their best showing at the World Cup.

Momentum through winning

And if there is momentum within Canada Basketball right now, Bartlett knows it can only be sustained through winning.

“That’s the fact and the truth. Like Canadians, any fan of sport leans in more, focuses more, cheers louder when they’ve got a winning program to cheer for,” he said.

To that end, Bartlett said he hopes to schedule friendlies for both five-on-five teams at home next spring and early summer, while gathering the women’s team — including its WNBA players — more frequently.

“We’ll concentrate on doing that with the women’s program so that when the torch is lit, we’re ready to roll,” he said.

The women also played for a medal at their last World Cup, finishing fourth last fall. They followed it up with a third-place finish at the 2023 FIBA AmeriCup.

In 3×3, the men’s team can still reach Paris through a June qualifier. Meanwhile, the women — Katherine and Michelle Plouffe, Kacie Bosch and Paige Crozon — have spent much of the past two summers travelling the world together for their Women’s Series season.

WATCH | Canada wins 2nd straight Women’s Series title:

FIBA Women’s 3×3 Basketball Series Final Ulaanbaatar: Canada vs. France

The Canadians take on France in the tournament final from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

With their second straight championship, that team could be the most dominant Canadian group going right now.

“I don’t think there’s a tournament [except the 2023 World Cup] where they haven’t competed for a podium since they’ve formed themselves and since we’ve started to invest in their progress and success [in 2019]. So we’re very pleased with where we are setting ourselves,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett, who lives in Stratford, Ont., said he’s witnessed his city slowly move from hockey nets to basketball nets in the driveway.

But as Canada continues to evolve into a full-fledged basketball nation, the one thing missing is a signature Olympic moment.

With three strong teams in tow, Paris is as good an opportunity as any.

“I think we can all define moments of Olympic history where all Canadians were joined together cheering on said athlete or said team,” Bartlett said. “And I think we’ve got multiple shots to be that rallying moment for the country.”

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