Plenty of added motivation for Canada's Olympic-bound senior men's basketball team

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Confidence was already soaring when Canada’s Senior Men’s National Basketball team assembled Friday for the beginning of its pre-Olympic preparations.

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And how could it not be sky high after last summer’s World Cup which saw Canada not only qualify for the upcoming Olympics but nab the bronze medal with a hard-fought win over favoured U.S. in the medal round.

But it took another jump this weekend as Canada Basketball brought in former members of Canadian teams that have represented our country in past Olympics.

The likes of Jay Triano, who wore the Maple Leaf on his chest at three different Olympics and was head coach at another or Bill Wennington, the former Chicago Bull who represented Canada at the 1984 Olympics, were just two of 49 members on site this weekend from the five most recent Olympics in which Canada qualified.

The group lunched with the current team Saturday afternoon between the morning and early evening practices.

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“It’s awesome on a number of levels,” long-time national team centre Dwight Powell said. “One, to be able to see the generations of basketball that have represented this country. And to feel that energy kinda brings a special vibe to camp, which I think is already in the air, obviously with what’s ahead. But to have them share their experiences and just be here and see the excitement on their faces for us and for the country, it’s huge. And to be able to sit down with them at lunch and hear some stories and experiences, it’s a reminder that we do have a rich basketball culture in this country that dates back a pretty long way and we have a lot of support in the basketball community, and we have a lot of work to do.”

Head coach Jordi Fernandez, who took the Canadian job last summer while still an assistant with Sacramento and is now the new head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, lauded the idea, the brainchild of Canada GM Rowan Barrett.

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“We want to be like them,” Fernandez said of the previous Olympians. “We have qualified but we haven’t played (at an Olympics yet), but again it’s very cool to be together here and I think it just shows what we’re all about.”

Of course that kind of added motivation can only help a team that is bolstered by the addition of point guard Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets, who was coming off injury and a long NBA title run at this point last summer and did not participate in the World Cup.

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Expect to see both he and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who was Canada’s driving force last summer, on the court together a lot this summer.

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How best to utilize two of the NBA’s best guards is a nice problem to have. Fernandez doesn’t sound like he’s going to lose a lot of sleep over it.

“I see it like great players just show you what they’re supposed to do and what they’re able to do and they make things happen,” Fernandez said perhaps purposely avoiding a direct response to the question.

“They make my job easier. I have the best seat in the house to let them do what they do,” he said. “Excited to have them, excited to challenge them, excited for them to challenge each other but also to support each other.”

Gilgeous-Alexander had a more precise response to the same question.

I drive, he shoots. Simple as that,” Gilgeous-Alexander said.

Fernandez, who clearly has spent plenty of time reviewing last year’s successes and failures at the World Cup, said one of his biggest mistakes in hindsight was overplaying Gilgeous-Alexander to the point that he was fatigued by the time the semifinals rolled around where Canada lost to Serbia.

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“Just because we have these super players doesn’t mean that I’m going to play them 40 minutes,” Fernandez said.

“They have to do their jobs and the other players are going to do their jobs and we have enough here, we have enough talent to be able to — if we have to play them more, I will, but we have enough to play 40 minutes, be really fast,  be physical and just perform and play our brand of basketball.”

Training will continue through July 7. From Toronto, the men’s team will head to Las Vegas for a pre-Olympic exhibition with the U.S.

Canada will also get in a pre-Olympic exhibition with France on July 19 in France.

They open the Olympics on July 27 taking on the winner of the Greece Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

Canada is currently ranked No. 7 in the world in men’s basketball.

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