Brian Daly on Canada Basketball
Canadian author explains how 'sacrifice' is the key to building a winning men's program.
The Senior Men’s National Team is the biggest underachiever in world basketball.
We have now failed to qualify for four consecutive Olympics despite having more NBA players than any country outside the U.S.A.
As a lifelong basketball player, coach and writer, it pains me to see such wasted potential at our flagship program.
Time and time again, we’ve been sold the line that we just need to stock a team with a “Golden Generation” of talent, and the medals will start pouring in.
The Senior Men’s National Team will truly begin its march to the podium when it stops obsessing about individual talent and focuses instead on program-building. Far too many of the comments from the Canada Basketball braintrust, and fans like you and I, are all about who’s in and who’s out.
How’s that working for us?
Forty-six different men have suited up for Canada since the 2011 World Cup. Forty six! Meanwhile just 21 women have worn the red and white since 2011, and they have fielded exactly the same team for two consecutive years, running off 14 consecutive wins in major tournaments until their loss to near-unbeatable Team USA in this summer’s Olympics.
For goodness sake – we’re doing better in men’s volleyball than men’s basketball on the world stage right now. Our men’s volleyball team made the Olympics through a last-ditch tournament and they’ve beaten one powerhouse after another on their way to the quarterfinals in Rio. Even NBC took notice. Look at the American network’s observation about Head Coach Glenn Hoag’s program-building plan:
When Hoag took over as Canada coach 10 years ago, he set the tone from the start. From development and a training center in Gatineau, Quebec, to embracing ever-changing technology and ways to give the Canadians even the slightest edge.
He had a plan for the national team: His players must either buy in or head out. Hoag sought to build a culture that was committed to developing players from the lowest levels all the way up to the senior squad.
Are you listening, Canada Basketball? It’s a team game! “Buy in or head out” should become Canada Basketball’s new (unofficial) motto. No more being held hostage by uncommitted players who are here today, gone tomorrow. Get a 4-year commitment from 12 guys and everyone else can watch on TV. One tryout every 4 years – that’s it, that’s all!
Then you’ll start to see the results everyone in our long-suffering basketball community wants to see.
For a masterclass in program-building, look no further than Canada’s Olympic medallist women’s rugby sevens.They cut the best rugby player in the world, Quebec’s Magali Harvey, and still won a bronze medal in Rio. Harvey was pissed, but the fact is that she wasn’t part of the tight-knit unit that lived and trained together all year-round. It takes guts to cut the best player in the world, but why mess with the chemistry?
Unfortunately, the “me-first” legacy of former NBA top dog David Stern has tainted our country, including you and I. The endless hand-wringing about Andrew Wiggins proves that we are absolutely obsessed with talent, but have no idea how to actually build a stable, winning program.
The results of the star-focused approach have been disappointing. Why not instead follow the example of legendary SMNT coach Jack Donohue, who hurt plenty of feelings on his way to 14 consecutive years of quarterfinal appearances in the 1970s and ’80s. He did this while giving up height and sometimes talent, but his players were tough, committed and loyal. Decades later, these men continue to swear by Donohue’s tough, uncompromising, team-first philosophy.
As a black Canadian, I am disturbed by the racism allegations that dogged Team Canada under Donohue and subsequent regimes. I personally know some of the players who were left off of Team Canada in the past, or who were relegated to the bench when selected. I feel for them, and racism definitely exists in Canada, but I’m not convinced that race is Canada Basketball’s biggest problem – a lack of wins is the problem. Had we qualified for the Olympics these last several years, instead of losing to the likes of Slovenia, Panama and Venezuela, there would be a lot less talk about racism, nepotism, regionalism and all the other “isms”. Winning covers up a multitude of sins.
Basketball is a team game. Our women’s coach, Lisa Thomaidis, realizes this. They have no WNBA stars and yet they’re good enough to make the quarterfinals or better in every big tournament they play in. They’ve beaten 7 of the top 10 programs in the world over the past 2 summers.
I urge all of us who love Canadian Basketball to remember one word – sacrifice. Sacrificing for the team, and ending our obsession with individuals, is the only way the Senior Men’s program will improve its results. Some of our NBA players are already loyal to the program, and we can build around them, but obsessing too much about talent is not the path to success.
The sooner that Team Canada realizes these truths, the sooner we can truly begin our march to the podium.
And what a glorious day that will be.
What do you think about the current state of Canadian Basketball on the men’s side?
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