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HomeBusinessCanada one win away from historic World Cup basketball bronze medal 

Canada one win away from historic World Cup basketball bronze medal 

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Bob Mackin

A bronze medal on Sunday and a medal of any colour next summer.

That is the mantra for Howard Kelsey, a West Vancouverite who played on Canada’s Olympic basketball team when it fell six-points short of bronze against Yugoslavia at Los Angeles 1984. 

Canada’s top men’s hoops players already qualified for next year’s Paris Olympics tournament — a first since Sydney 2000, during the Steve Nash era — by overcoming a 12-point fourth quarter deficit to upset defending champion Spain on Sept. 3 at the 2023 FIBA World Cup in Jakarta.

(Canada Basketball)

They fell to Serbia in Friday’s semifinal, but will play for third place in Manila against the United States, which lost the other semifinal to Germany.

“I’m going to look on the bright side here,” Kelsey said. “Yeah, I’m sorry, we stubbed our toe today, but no offense, Serbia just outplayed us today, they deserve it.”

The intriguing matchup with the U.S. pits the two teams with the most NBA players on their rosters, playing an NBA-style game within the international rules in a potential preview of next summer’s Olympics. 

“People are very proud to be affiliated with Canadian men’s basketball because [point guard] Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is one of the top players in the world. He’s not just a good player from Hamilton, he’s the third-leading scorer in the NBA. He didn’t have the best game today, but he has been a candidate for the MVP,” Kelsey said. 

Kelsey wishes players of his generation had the payroll of the 2023 team. He also wishes today’s team had more “beef up front,” like centres Bill Wennington and Greg Wiltjer from his day. 

“We are getting out-rebounded, but overall their athleticism is much better than ours.”

A Canadian could still win the World Cup. Kelsey’s former national teammate Gordon Herbert, who was born in Penticton, is Germany’s head coach. Herbert’s players “have a silver medal in their hand right now and they may beat Serbia. So all systems go and all a lot of Canada’s fingerprints all over the FIBA World Cup.”

After Sunday, players turn their focus to the upcoming NBA season and later, the Paris tournament. Canada’s best Olympic finish was a silver at Berlin 1936. Canada’s first fourth-place finish was at Montreal 1976, under Kelsey’s mentor, Jack Donohue. 

Howard Kelsey during his playing days (NBTAA.com)

In 2024, with a talent-laden team of pros, it will be time for Canadians to raise their expectations. 

“We don’t care what colour it is, silver, gold or bronze, but it’s a medal, otherwise, we’re falling short,” Kelsey said. “But we’ve got a year to prepare for that. This was a big step.” 

It is undoubtedly the legacy of Nash’s double NBA MVP career, which turned more NBA scouts, general managers and coaches onto the Canadian talent pool. Kelsey also credits Canada Basketball’s past-president Glen Grunwald and current president Michael Bartlett for the program’s stability. Canada’s strongest showing at the FIBA World Cup comes in contrast to the disappointing performances at World Cups by Canada’s men’s and women’s soccer teams, both challenged by off-field conflicts with Canadian Soccer Association executives. 

Jerseys and balls from the bronze medal game could end up in a museum. Kelsey is a co-founder with David Turcotte and Misty Thomas of the Canada National Basketball Teams Alumni Association, which is behind a virtual Canadian basketball hall of fame project and a proposal for a physical hall of fame. Hockey and baseball have national shrines in Canada, so why not basketball? 

Kelsey suggests there could be three sites that share the distinction. One in Ontario, the province of basketball inventor James Naismith’s Almonte birthplace; an east coast location at St. Stephens, N.B., home of the world’s oldest basketball court; and a west coast location inside the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. 

“Not only did we invent the game, we are the host of the first women’s basketball Olympics, 1976 in Montreal, and the person who invented the pea-less whistle. Ron Foxcroft, one of the premier reps in FIBA, Order of Canada. That’s another Canadian thing,” Kelsey said.

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