Canadian basketball is in a good place

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With a new coach and an injured star, expectations for Canada’s women’s basketball team at the World Cup were cautious at best. Grouped with the second-, third- and fourth-place finishers from the Olympics, it seemed like a tall task just to reach the quarter-finals.

Instead, Canada wound up placing fourth for its best finish since 1986, falling in the bronze-medal game to host Australia. A successful tournament like this was a long time coming for the fourth-ranked Canadians, who announced themselves on the international scene with a run to the quarter-finals at the 2012 Olympics but failed to progress in the ensuing years.

Roaming the Canadian sidelines for the first time at a major tournament, Victor Lapeña achieved almost exactly what he was brought in for, short of reaching the podium. He instilled instant energy, seemingly bringing joy back to a program in need. And the players adapted quickly to his ramped-up strategy without becoming overly aggressive, averaging the fourth-most steals and third-fewest turnovers per game.

WATCH | Canada drops basketball worlds bronze to Australia:

Australia cruises to basketball worlds bronze medal in win over Canada

The hosts, led by Lauren Jackson’s 30 points, defeated Canada 95-65 to clinch 3rd place at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup.

Since we’re talking about Canadian sports on a CBC platform, let’s name the team’s three stars:

  • Bridget Carleton: Named to the tournament’s All-Star Five alongside American stars A’Ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart, Carleton paced Canada with nearly 13 points per game while nailing 35.6 per cent of her three-pointers. Her tournament was highlighted by a 27-point performance (including 7-of-8 from deep) against Mali. Like most of the team, Carleton struggled to get much going in the semis against the U.S. or the bronze-medal game against Australia.
  • Kia Nurse: Sidelined by a knee injury for the entire WNBA season, Nurse played her first competitive games in 11 months at the World Cup. Slowly building up from a 20-minute limit, she made the most of her time, placing second behind Carleton at 11 points per game. Perhaps the best sign for Nurse was a combined 30 points in two games against the Aussies.
  • Kayla Alexander: The former longtime WNBAer looked rejuvenated Down Under, where she averaged a double-double during group play while finishing second overall in rebounds per game. Alexander anchored a Canadian defence which allowed the third-fewest points before the knockout rounds.

Canada’s next big task — booking its ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympics — begins with a pre-qualifying tournament in November 2023. In the interim, it’ll use a few international windows and next July’s AmeriCup to continue learning Lapeña’s system and building on the foundation laid at the World Cup.

Luckily for Canadian basketball fans, the wait for more interesting games is already over — the Raptors opened their pre-season last night in Edmonton with a resounding win over the Jazz in front of a sold-out arena, which guard Fred VanVleet said gave him and his teammates the “rock-star treatment.”

Perhaps fittingly, Canadian Chris Boucher led the way with a double-double for the Raptors. Guard Dalano Banton, who added nine points, and centre Khem Birch, who recorded five points and five rebounds, are two other Canadians expected to make Toronto’s opening-night roster.

Across the NBA, the number of impact Canadians in training camps continues to grow, from the likes of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort in Oklahoma City to Memphis’ Dillon Brooks and Brandon Clarke. The Pacers also have a young trio of Canadians, with rookies Bennedict Mathurin and Andrew Nembhard joining holdover Oshae Brissett.

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