After Canada’s 1st men’s basketball World Cup medal, Olympic podium should be next goal

For years, there were expectations.

There were games that Canada’s men’s basketball team should have won, Olympics it should have attended.

But those expectations were never met until the recently completed World Cup, when Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dillon Brooks led the Canadians to a bronze medal — with a win over the vaunted Americans, no less.

“You don’t know what it is until you do it,” head coach Jordi Fernandez said after that win. “We can go back and tell our people in the NBA, ‘We were in the World Cup and we won a medal.’ But they just don’t know what you went through together for all those days and wins and losses and the emotions.”

And so the tournament was a bit of a celebration. Yes, Canada would have preferred to win the whole thing, but its first-ever World Cup podium appearance was nothing to sneeze at.

Now comes the pressure.

In winning bronze, Canada also secured its first Olympic berth since 2000. Anything less than competing for a medal in Paris, after accomplishing that feat in Manila, could be viewed as a disappointment.

WATCH | Canada claims 1st men’s basketball World Cup medal:

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.

There will be plenty of questions about who will don the red and white next summer. After Canada’s disastrous loss in Victoria two years ago, Canada Basketball formed a 14-player core to commit through Paris.

Nine of those players competed at the World Cup, with Jamal Murray the most notable absentee.

Fernandez said dedication would be rewarded as Canada picks its players for France.

“We have a great program. We have guys that are going to want to be part of it and we’ll decide when the time comes but all these guys [at the World Cup] have the No. 1 ticket because they’ve made this happen.

“And we believe in loyalty. Obviously you come and fight for a spot but we owe a lot to those guys. If we want to build the right program, if we don’t do it this way, it would not make sense.”

Talent to compete with anyone

The World Cup made clear that Canada can compete with any opponent, including signature wins over Spain — a do-or-die victory over the reigning champions to reach the Olympics — France, the Tokyo 2020 silver medallist, and Luka Doncic-led Slovenia.

Despite a tough semifinal loss to Serbia, Brooks said the team remained confident against the U.S.

“Around the locker room, we really wanted to play the U.S. We got our wish,” he said. “I sent in the group chat that we got what we wanted, let’s be ready to play.”

With a Canadian-record 39 points, Brooks especially came ready. Meanwhile, Gilgeous-Alexander became the first Canadian man named to the World Cup all-tournament team after capping his run with a 31-point masterpiece against the Americans.

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#TheMoment Canada won its first ever Men’s Basketball World Cup medal

Canada beat the USA in overtime for bronze at the FIBA Men’s Basketball World Cup. This is their first medal in Canadian men’s basketball on the World or Olympic stage since 1936.

Canada’s talent, even without its best possible roster, could sway those on the fence to put their names in the Olympic hat.

Murray, who missed the World Cup after helping the Denver Nuggets to the team’s first NBA championship, tried to play but couldn’t get to 100 per cent physically. Wiggins has said he wants to play at the Olympics. Cory Joseph is among the most tenured national-team players. And that’s without even mentioning younger players like Bennedict Mathurin, Andrew Nembhard and Shaedon Sharpe.

“That’s just motivating to them as well to join us, to re-up and get better to make a run in this Olympics,” Brooks said. “We got great players, we got a great coach who believes in us who has great schemes, [is] very patient with us, finds a way to motivate us every single day to get better and figured out how to get guys in the NBA, who don’t get paid for this, to sacrifice.”

That motivation may have extended outside of Canada borders too. LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and other American stars are reportedly eyeing Paris 2024 now as a last dance for their generation of players, per multiple reports on Monday.

‘We can do great things’

When Fernandez first spoke with the media in Toronto on Aug. 1 after taking over from Nick Nurse just over a month earlier, he said he jumped at the job because he viewed Canada’s potential as No. 1 in the world.

He said then that the goal was to improve by one per cent every day until the final day of competition.

After beating the U.S., Fernandez said his team was “amazing.”

“It’s the beginning of something that’s going to last a long time,” he said. “And all 12 guys came in and worked every day since August 1. They got better at least one per cent every day and they built the identity that we’ve just shown, the resiliency.

“It wasn’t perfect because we don’t have a lot of experience in FIBA, but I think we’re here showing that we can do great things.”

Even greater things may lie ahead next summer.

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