© Basketball Canada
By The Telegram and The Canadian Press
Once a kid on the team, now a veteran, Newfoundland’s Carl English is among the 19 players set to take to the court at the Air Canada Centre today as the Canadian men’s basketball team opens up its annual training camp.
The 32-year-old English, who was born in St. John’s, but grew up in Patrick’s Cove, Placentia Bay, has been part of the Basketball Canada national team program since 2000, when he was a star guard at the University of Hawaii, and has played 52 international games for the Canadian senior men’s team.
English, who has played professionally in Europe since 2005, has endured during some lean times for the national team program, but things definitely seem to be getting better.
Among those joining English at the ACC will be NBA players Cory Joseph, Andrew Nicholson Tristan Thompson,. and Joel Anthony. Recently drafted Kelly Olynyk and first overall pick Anthony Bennett will also be with the team, though neither will participate due to injury.
Phenom Andrew Wiggins will not be with the group, opting instead to focus on preparing for his freshman season at Kansas. Still, there will be plenty of competition for playing time among the camp’s 18 attendees.
And perhaps some tough decisions for general manager Steve Nash and head coach Jay Triano, who returned to the helm a year ago after coaching Canada from 1998 to 2004.
“I said to Steve, ‘Man, this is not an easy job a it used to be we had hard time convincing NBA players to play for our country,”’ Triano said at a news conference. “(Now in the future) we’re going to have to cut an NBA player off of our Canadian national team.”
“Steve says, ’That’s great,’ I said, ’Not for me,’ I don’t want to be that guy,” Triano said with a laugh. “That’s where we are.”
Nash, himself a star player with the Los Angeles Lakers, calls it Canada’s “golden age of basketball.”
The team is using the camp as preparation for the Aug. 30-Sept. 11 FIBA Americas Championship in Venezuela, where the top four teams will qualify for the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain. Having spent time working with USA Basketball in recent years, Triano has witnessed first-hand how bonds developed in summer training sessions translate onto the floor and galvanize team chemistry.
“I think what we do in meetings and off the floor and what we do on the floor is all going to be part of whether we can mesh as a team,” Triano said. “We have to use the experience we have from guys who have played in the past and represented Canada and we have to use the young influx of talent and find ways to get them that international experience.”
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“No better way then to go one on one every day upstairs in practice,’ added Triano
With more attention on the program and Canadian talent than ever before, Nash stressed the importance of remaining focused on their long-term goals.
“Obviously, we’re desperate to qualify,” he said of the World Cup. “But the truth is it’s going to be a real challenge. We’ve got a tremendously young team. We have a lot of guys who have very little international experience and very little experience playing together. The challenge is there.”
While the FIBA Americas Championship is the first goal, Nash’s sights remain set on the bigger picture.
“Our top players are all in,” Nash said. “It’s a beautiful thing. They’re getting a lot of love and interest from people in Canada. This boom of young talent that’s entering the NBA and potentially going to the NBA, I believe fans and television viewership is up 19 per cent or something in the past year or two in this country. That, in many ways, is interest in those young players. I think our players are paying back the interest by being all in.”
But so are longtime stalwarts like English, who headed to Europe after attempts to make the NBA’s Indiana Pacers and Seattle Sonics didn’t pan out.
He first went to Italy, then Croatia and finally to Spain, where he’s starred with a number of teams, the most recent being Asefa Estudiantes. Last season, he averaged a team-leading 17.2 points and 27 minutes of floor time.