Eight NBA players on Canada's team for its last-chance Tokyo Olympic qualifier

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VICTORIA — Canada's men's basketball team is ready and prepared to hit the floor Tuesday in pursuit of one of the few remaining spots at the Tokyo Olympics, team captain Cory Joseph said Monday less than 24 hours before the start of a last-chance games qualifying tournament.

The Canadians, who tip off against Greece on Tuesday in Victoria, must win the six-country tournament to clinch their first Olympic berth since the 2000 Games in Sydney.

Eight NBA players have been named to arguably the most talented Canadian men's basketball team in history for this week's tournament on home court.

"We definitely have a good shot here," Joseph said at a pre-game news conference. "We've got to be extremely focused and put it all together. It's very important we click as fast as we can."

Joseph said the "stings" of previous unsuccessful efforts to qualify for past Olympics still linger, but this team is looking to forget the past and focus on success over the next week.

"We've got to put it all together," he said. "In my mind we haven't done anything yet."

Nickeil Alexander-Walker (New Orleans), RJ Barrett (New York), Luguentz Dort (Oklahoma City), Trey Lyles (San Antonio), Mychal Mulder and Andrew Wiggins (Golden State), Dwight Powell (Dallas) and Joseph (Detroit) make up the NBA contingent.

The 12-man roster is rounded out by Trae Bell-Haynes, Anthony Bennett, Aaron Doornekamp, and Andrew Nicholson.

Canada coach Nick Nurse, the Toronto Raptors' head coach, said the team has yet to play a game, but is stocked with passionate players with loads of talent.

"We're going to find out a lot more tomorrow about who we are and who we can become," he said. "We've got them ready and prepared and we'll see tomorrow."

Nurse said the team will be flexible on offence but defence will be the core focus of the squad.

"It is a short time," he said. "You've got to build some foundational principles. I don't think you're a championship level team unless defence is kind of right at the top of your priority list."

Rick Pitino, who is coaching Greece and is one of the winningest United States college basketball coaches, said teams with the best defence often win, but sharp shooters are the intangibles at these winner-take-all competitions.

"When you get to games like this, it's shot makers," he said. "In these short games like this, it's shot makers."

Joseph, who said he started dreaming about representing Canada at the Olympics when he was 14 years old, said he's looking to make this latest shot count.

"It would mean a lot of our country," he said. "I think our country is thirsty for it."

Purdue's Zach Edey and Gonzaga's Andrew Nembhard had been in camp but weren't on the final roster.

Edey is expected to be with the U19 team for the FIBA world championships in Latvia.

"Hosting the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament is a great occasion for basketball in our country and the team that's been selected to represent Canada this week is committed to our goal of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympic Games," Rowan Barrett, GM of the senior men's program, said in a statement.

Canada faces China on Wednesday. Uruguay, Czech Republic and Turkey are in Group B. Each team plays the other teams in its group once, then the top two teams in each group will advance to Saturday's semis. The two semifinal winners meet Sunday, with the champion clinching a spot in Tokyo.

In addition to Canada, there are three other last-chance tournaments happening this week to determine the final spots, in Croatia, Lithuania and Serbia.

Canada is ranked No. 21 in the world.

The Canadian women's team, ranked fourth, booked its third consecutive Olympic berth back in February of 2020.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2021.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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