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Why the Canadian men’s basketball team is poised to end its 24-year Olympic drought

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CBC Sports’ Bring It In series is back for another season, bringing Canadians in-depth sports analysis, discussion and debate. Hosted by Morgan Campbell, the first four episodes are available now on CBC Gem and CBC Sports’ YouTube channel.

The season premiere, titled “The Rise of Canadian Basketball”, examines the state of basketball in Canada and whether Canada’s men’s team will finally end its 24-year-Olympic drought.

Campbell analyzes Canada’s growing NBA presence, whether that NBA talent will lead to an Olympic berth in 2024, and features interviews with Canadian NBA player Chris Boucher and men’s national team general manager Rowan Barrett.

Campbell points out that with a record 22 Canadians on NBA opening day rosters this past season, Canada is the second most represented nation in the league. The country has firmly established itself as a basketball power, but the men’s national team has not qualified for the Olympics since the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia.

“The numbers hint at progress. Canada’s senior men are 11-1 in their last 12 games. But those numbers also tell us that the time for moral victories or finding honour in almost qualifying for the Olympics is over,” Campbell says.

WATCH | Rowan Barrett on Canada’s pathway to Paris 2024:

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.

Canada’s road to Paris 2024 goes through Indonesia and the Philippines, with the men’s team set to compete at the FIBA Basketball World Cup this summer. The top two finishers from the Americas zone qualify for the Olympics.

Canada’s roster features bona fide NBA stars in Jamal Murray and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who were among the 14 players that made three-year commitments to Canada’s program last year.

Barrett explains why that level of consistency is essential to getting the men’s program back to the Olympics, where the style of play is different than the NBA.

“You need to know how to play FIBA [basketball], and that’s why we needed a commitment, that’s why we needed players that were going to stay for multiple years within our system prior to getting to an Olympics. You need them consistently there,” Barrett said.

While Barrett knows FIBA basketball requires a different approach, he is confident Canada has the level of NBA talent it takes to achieve international success.

“The FIBA game is very different than the NBA game; it’s a different game. But when you go back and look at the teams that are winning the world championships and the Olympics, the ones that are in the top three, they are laden [with] NBA players,” Barrett said.

Barrett also breaks down the program’s growth since the 2000 Games and how those years of steady effort are paying dividends.

Canada’s men’s team checks all the boxes of what an Olympic-calibre basketball team should look like, with NBA starters and an NBA championship-winning coach in Nick Nurse. 

Boucher is adamant that the Canadian squad can meet expectations and compete with the world’s best.

“With the way I’ve seen Shai play and the guys like Jamal, Dillon [Brooks], [Kelly] Olynyk, all these guys, RJ [Barrett], I feel like we could beat anybody,” Boucher says.

The episode also features a look at Boucher’s basketball roots in Montreal, and what it was like to transition from the world of pick-up basketball to the structure of the organized sport.

“You’ve got to stick to your role because if you don’t end up doing what the team wants you to do, you might be out,” Boucher said.

Along with the full Bring It In episodes on YouTube and CBC Gem, you can also view segments from this season’s episodes posted weekly on the Bring It In homepage. Other episode topics this season include the business of track and field, the future of the Olympic games and sports media 101.

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