Canada men’s basketball finally realizing potential on international stage

MANILA, PHILIPPINES – SEPTEMBER 06: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of Canada drives to the basket against Aleksej Nikolic #6 of Slovenia during the FIBA Basketball World Cup quarter final game between Canada and Slovenia at Mall of Asia Arena on September 06, 2023 in Manila, Philippines. (Photo by Ezra Acayan/Getty Images)

This is the moment Canadian basketball fans have been waiting for.

For years, Canada was touted as an up-and-coming force in the international game, but despite a roster stacked with NBA talent, the Canadians had never realized that potential on an international stage.

No longer.

Canada defeated Luka Doncic and Slovenia, 100-89 on Wednesday to advance to the World Cup semifinals for the first time ever.

It was a strange game, as both Doncic and Dillon Brooks were ejected and emotions ran extremely high (pretty typical for both of those guys).

Basketball wunderkind Shai Gilgeous-Alexander put up 31 points, while Knicks star RJ Barrett had 26.

Canada, is of course, a nation known for its obsession with hockey, and it’s sometimes excelled in other, non-ice sports, like when Donovan Bailey was racking up golds in Olympic track and dueling with Michael Johnson.

But basketball had never really been Canada’s thing, even when Steve Nash was playing for the national team. The Canadians have qualified for the Olympics just once since 1988, finishing 7th in Sydney, Australia in 2000.

It’s become bigger in recent years, thanks to the exploding popularity of the Toronto Raptors, who won the NBA title in 2019 as thousands of hoops-loving fans gathered in a giant crowd outside the arena.

This team, with an All-Star in SGA leading the way and fellow NBAers Brooks, Barrett, Kelly Olynyk, Dwight Powell and Luguentz Dort all suiting up, was expected to make some noise on the international stage, but it proved to be perhaps just a little bit young to get it done last time, losing in an Olympic Qualifying Tournament ahead of the 2021 Beijing Games.

This time though, they gutted through a win over defending world champions Spain, clinching their spot in the Paris Olympics in the process. It’s not an easy task, and with the game getting more global, it’s one that gets harder by the year.

Canada will face Serbia in the World Cup semifinals on Friday, and a win there could put them in position to face the U.S. with gold on the line.

They’ve come so far, and now there’s a chance to go where no Canadian team has ever gone before.

Pretty cool, eh?

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