Veteran centre Joel Anthony remembers what it was like the last time Canada earned a spot at the FIBA World Cup. He wants to experience that again, especially with the 2019 tournament also serving as an Olympic qualifier.
Canada will begin its quest to qualify for the 2019 World Cup in China when it faces the Bahamas on Friday. Anthony, who was a member of the Canadian team that qualified for the 2010 World Cup in Turkey as well as the squad that missed out on the 2014 event, will be one of the veterans of the squad.
“To have a chance to go to the worlds, and in this format, to have the potential opportunity to play in the Olympics, that’s really the biggest goal,” Anthony said after a practice Tuesday at the Canada Games Centre in Halifax.
32 teams will qualify
Canada is in a group with the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The top three teams advance to the next stage, with records carried forward. The top three teams from each of the two second-round groups qualify for the World Cup, along with the best fourth-place team.
Thirty-two teams in all will go to the World Cup and the top eight teams (plus host Japan) will make up the 2020 Olympic basketball tournament.
Anthony has played in 490 NBA games, mostly with the Miami Heat, and is now a free agent. The Montreal native has been with the national team since 2005 and has fond memories of the 2009 qualifiers in Puerto Rico when Canada earned a spot for the 2010 FIBA World Cup.
“That was huge for us,” said the six-foot-nine Anthony. “The amount of excitement that was there with the team, it was a really special feeling that you knew you were going to be able to represent your company on the world stage. Wanting to have that feeling again is what drives a lot of us — especially me.”
Roy Rana took over the reins of Canada’s men’s national team for the AmeriCup in August and will be the coach for Canada’s first World Cup qualifying matches. Earlier this year, he led Canada’s under-19 team to a gold medal, the first time a Canadian team has won a FIBA tournament.
The Bahamas is not known as a basketball powerhouse, but Canada can’t take them lightly.
‘Don’t fall into that trap’
“They may not be a basketball power, but they do have talent and they do have players,” Rana said. “They’re not walking in here as a team that has no ability to beat an opponent. We have to be careful that we don’t fall in to that trap. We just have to believe that every team is high quality. It’s about us and how we perform than it is about our opponent.”
Anthony says it’s important to show an “extreme amount of respect” to a Bahamas squad the Canadians aren’t that familiar with.
“This is a team that we’re going to have to come at with extreme focus, respect, and definitely a certain edge and determination is going to have to be there for us to be able pull this out,” said the former UNLV Runnin’ Rebel.
Rana says some key players for Canada in this series of games will be point guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes of Toronto, who is in the New York Knicks organization. He played NCAA basketball with Florida State and now suits up for the Westchester Knicks in the NBA’s developmental league.
Shooting guard Brady Heslip of Burlington, Ont., who plays professionally in Turkey, and former Carleton stars Phil and Thomas Scrubb of Richmond, B.C., add scoring punch and experience to the lineup.
An intriguing player to watch will be Anthony Bennett of Toronto. The former No. 1 overall pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers is now toiling for the Northern Arizona Suns of the NBA’s development league and will be looking to help Canada return to the world stage.
“There’s a lot of great stories that the fans will be able to resonate with,” Rana said.