While basketball is yet to reach the heights in the Great White North as it has in the United States, it is still an extremely popular sport. Basketball got a huge boost in the country following the Toronto Raptors’ NBA Championship win last year, attracting many new fans to the sport. The Canadian national team is looking to build on this goodwill as well, as the announcement of an All-Stars game shows.
The Canadian national basketball team will play in an all-stars game against players from the Canadian Elite Basketball League, as a practice match ahead of the final qualifying tournament for the Tokyo Olympics. This match is currently scheduled to be held on June 12 in Hamilton, Ontario, while the qualifying tournament is from June 23-28. With only one spot in the 2020 Olympics up for grabs, Canada will be competing against China, Greece, Turkey, Uruguay, and the Czech Republic, to book their flight to Japan. It will be a tough ask for the Canadians as they look to qualify for the Olympics for the first time since Sydney 2000. Canadian gambling resources and national betting sites are expected to be flooded with betting requests, both for this game as well as for Canada’s prospects in the qualifying tournament, and if the NBA stars live up to their billing, fans could be in for a treat in Hamilton on 12th June.
The governing body, Canada Basketball, has certainly been trying its best to ensure Canada’s participation at the Games, and hired Nick Nurse, the coach of the aforementioned title-winning Raptors team, as the coach of the national side as well to that end. However, Nurse has struggled, with the Canadian team finishing 21st in the FIBA World Cup last year. Most observers thought it was a huge step for Canada to have qualified for the World Cup in the first place, an effort which took a roster of 36 players to achieve, but having got there, fans were expecting a better showing. The Raptors’ win in the NBA Championship brought about an explosion of talent in the NBA, but that has yet to translate into benefits for the national side.
Of the 17 NBA players invited to a pre-World Cup camp last year, only Cory Joseph and Khem Birch showed up, which demonstrates the need to get the Canadian NBA players excited about playing for their national team. There were questions around the length of the preparation phase, with the federation requiring a six-week commitment from players, including playing exhibition games in Australia followed by a long flight to China for the tournament itself. Canada Basketball is hosting the qualifying tournament for the Olympics, and so it is looking to have the players at home for a longer period of time to entice some more players into joining up with the team. It seems like this ploy has worked, with a number of Canadian NBA players having given assurances that they will participate in the qualifying tournament. These include Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander from the Oklahoma City Thunder, R.J. Barrett of the New York Knicks, Dillon Brooks from the Memphis Grizzlies, Nickeil Alexander-Walker from the New Orleans Pelicans, Oshae Brissett of the Raptors, Dwight Powell from the Dallas Mavericks, and Khem Birch of the Orlando Magic. Cory Joseph, from the Sacramento Kings, and Kelly Olynyk of the Miami Heat, are expected to participate as well. However, there are still doubts as to whether the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Tristan Thompson has agreed to join up, or indeed whether Andrew Wiggins of the Golden State Warriors, who has not played for the national side since 2015, will come back into the fold. Nevertheless, this roster has inspired hope in Canadian basketball fans that they will be able to make it to the Tokyo Olympics, and the all-stars game will be a showcase of that talent.