Photos by Chung Chow
The midday sun shines on the Richmond Olympic Oval, reflecting the bright future of the Canadian men’s basketball team that has gathered here for a pair of midweek practices.
It is June 20, two days before Canada takes to the floor at Rogers Arena for the first of two exhibition games against China in the inaugural Pacific Rim Classic. As the players engage in a shoot-around, optimism abounds.
While mindful of the many steps still to be taken, John Mills is never-the-less clearly delighted by the progress of the national program. Seated at the podium inside the legacy lounge, where discussion is centered on future prospects, the co-chair of Canada Basketball says the game has never been healthier north of the 49th parallel.
“We have had great players in the sport and their presence, along with the (Toronto) Raptors’ efforts, young guys see that it is possible to excel,” he says. “I don’t think there is any end in sight. I don’t see a plateau.”
This Canadian team is chock full of the talent Mills speaks of. Joining current NBAers Kelly Olynyk of Kamloops (Miami Heat), Dwight Powell (Dallas Mavericks), Chris Boucher (Golden State Warriors) and Dillon Brooks (Memphis Grizzlies) are Richmond’s own Phil Scrubb (Fraport Skyliners, Germany) and brother Tommy (S.S. Felilce Scandone, Italy) and R.J. Barrett, son of general manager and former national team star Rowan Barrett, and the top-ranked high school player in the world.
One of the great players in Canadian university basketball history, Phil Scrubb won five national championships as a key guard for the Carleton Ravens. He also earned a record three CIS Outstanding Player awards.
Playing alongside his brother, Tommy Scrubb also won five titles with the Ravens and took home CIS Defensive Player of the Year honours in both 2014 and 2015.
Graduates of Vancouver College high school, they credit their dad Lloyd’s guidance, coaching and advice for helping them get to where they’re at today. Both believe they have a lot to contribute to the Canadian team. Seeing the many talented forwards, including his brother, in the lineup, Phil believes he can effectively distribute the basketball and open up space on the floor. Tommy envisions having a strong presence on the boards.
With an eye on qualifying for next year’s FIBA Basketball World Cup in China, and ultimately the 2020 Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo, Canada Basketball general manager Rowan Barrett saw the opportunity to host the two-game Pacific Rim series as “a tremendous treat.”
Part of the last Canadian team (which featured Richmond High grad Andrew Mavis) to qualify for the Olympics (seventh in 2000 in Australia), Barrett believes depth of talent will continue to be paramount in Canada’s quest to return to the Games.
“If you’re missing one, two or three players in any given year, you have to hope your depth will be able to step in and do the job,” he says.
To ensure the talent pool remains deep, Barrett and his colleagues also recognize the importance of inspiring youth to pick up basketball and then develop their skills.
Canada resumes its journey toward qualifying for the World Cup with Americas Qualifiers against Dominican Republic on June 29 in Toronto and U.S. Virgin Islands July 2 in Ottawa. Bahamas is the fourth nation in the group, from which the top three teams following home-and-away games will advance to a second round. A record 32 teams will participate in the World Cup, from which seven will qualify for the Olympic Games in 2020.