A pair of basketball games at Mile One Centre next week comprise the sixth and final window for Canada in qualifying for the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
The Canadians hope the matchups open the door a little wider as they move on to the World Cup late this summer in China.
Canada is 8-2 through the first 10 games of Americas qualifying, and has already clinched a berth in the Aug. 31-Sept. 15 world championship. But there is still a great deal on the line in games against Chile on Thursday (7 p.m.) and Venezuela on Sunday (4 p.m.) at Mile One.
The Venezuelans lead the qualifying section with a 9-1 record, which includes an 84-76 victory over the Canadians in late November. But if both teams win their Thursday games (Venezuela takes on the Dominican Republic in Santo Domingo before travelling here), it sets up a potential first-place matchup Sunday afternoon in their qualifying finale at Mile One.
At stake is a higher seed for the World Cup, where seven direct qualifying berths for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will also be determined.
There is also the matter of some history and the possibility of payback: it was a heartbreaking 79-78 loss to Venezuela in 2015 that denied Canada a berth in the Rio Summer Olympics the following year.
With Americas qualifying mostly taking place during the NBA regular season, rosters include mainly players from top European and South American circuits.
Canada is led by centre Joel Anthony, who played 10 years in the NBA, including seven with the Miami Heat, with whom he won two championships. The Montreal native, who is playing in Argentina’s premier league this season, is a veteran of the national team program, having first suited up with the national senior side in 2006.
In all, players from leagues in nine different countries comprise the Canadian lineup this week in St. John’s.
Guard Brady Heslip, a Baylor University product who plays in Turkey, is another national-team stalwart, having been part of the program the last half dozen years and being the only player to have appeared in all 10 of Canada’s qualifying games to date. And like many of the Canadian players, he has experience in NBA summer league and/or the NBA’s development league (G-League).
That includes centre Kyle Wiltjer, the former Gonzaga star who is son of former Chicago Bulls draft pick and Canadian senior team player Greg Wiltjer, and forward Melvin Ejim, a former all-American at Iowa State University, who is playing in Russia.
And there are the Scrubb brothers, Phil and Thomas, who won five straight CIS men’s university titles with the Carleton Ravens and are considered two of the top players in Canadian collegiate hoops history.
The qualifying games amount to reunions for the Scrubbs, who are known for their hard-nosed play, what with Phil playing in Russia and Thomas in Italy.
The Canadians, coached by Roy Rana, begin their pre-competition training camp at Memorial University on Monday before moving operations to Mile One on Wednesday.
Individual tickets and two-game ticket packages are on sale now at the Mile One Centre box office, 709-576-7657 and www.mileonecentre.com.
In addition to the camp and games, Canada Basketball, in partnership with Newfoundland and Labrador Basketball Association (NLBA), will also host clinics for players, coaches and officials (for additional information and to register, visit www.nlba.nf.ca.)
Canada’s roster for World Cup qualifying games at Mile One Centre, with position, height, hometown and last/current club:
• Joel Anthony, centre, 6-10, Montreal, San Lorenzo (Argentina)
• Aaron Best, guard, 6-4, Scarborough Ont., Riesen Ludwigsburg (Germany)
• Melvin Ejim, forward, 6-7, Toronto, Unics Kazan (Russia)
• Brady Heslip, guard, 6-2, Burlington Ont., Istanbul BBSK (Turkey)
• Kaza Kajami-Keane, guard, 6-2, Ajax Ont., Landstede Zwolle (Netherlands)
• Kyle Landry, centre, 6-10, Calgary, Buducnost (Montenegro)
• Conor Morgan, forward, 6-9, Victoria B.C., Divina Seguros Joventut (Spain)
• Mychal Mulder, guard, 6-4, Windsor Ont., Windy City Bulls (G League)
• Adika Peter-McNeilly, guard, 6-3, Toronto, Mitteldeutscher BC (Germany)
• Phil Scrubb, guard, 6-4, Richmond B.C., Zenit Saint Petersburg (Russia)
• Thomas Scrubb, forward 6-7, Richmond B.C., Openjobmetis Varese (Italy)
• Kyle Wiltjer, forward, 6-10, Portland, Ore., Unicaja Malaga (Spain)