Entire national program must do better

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:15 AM ET

The Canadian basketball intelligentsia hoped and believed the sport would boom here with the arrival of the Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies in 1995.

So almost a decade later, where are we?

Well, there hasn't been a boom, per se. Basketball remains a complete non-factor in wide swaths of the country. But to say there has been zero progress would be wrong, too.

More kids are playing the sport, particularly in Southern Ontario. High school basketball has improved. College basketball has improved. University basketball has improved. And more Canadians than ever are earning basketball scholarships to post-secondary institutions in the United States.

In fact, you could make the argument there have been modest gains at every level of Canadian hoops ... except the national team.

Now, it would be folly to suggest Jay Triano single-handedly is responsible for that. There are tons of factors at play.

SIGNALLED

But when Canada Basketball announced yesterday Triano will not have his contract renewed as the coach of the men's national team, at the very least it signalled the organization believes all the balls aren't bouncing the way they should, and it has to try something new.

Some say the structure and approach of Canada Basketball itself is the heart of the problem. And if that's the case, does it even matter who the coach is?

Well, yes and no.

Rightly or wrongly, the national team continues to have a lousy reputation among Canadian high school players in their early and mid-teens. Part of it is straight selfishness, as players basically ask, "What can the national team do for me?" rather than, "What can I do for the national team?" And it's curious that wearing a Maple Leaf on the front of a jersey seems to mean far more to young hockey players than it does to young basketball players.

Then again, if players honestly don't believe getting involved in any of the national-team programs will improve their games or enhance their chances at some sort of hoops career, you can understand their tendency to look elsewhere.

What's more, while no one in Canada likes to talk about these things, there continues to be something of a racial divide. Simply put, young black Canadian basketball players don't tend to have much interest, or trust, in the national program. They still believe Canada Basketball values Canadian university players far more than players who have developed through other means.

Factually speaking, that could be total hogwash. But despite the best efforts of many, including Triano, the perception remains, and perception is reality.

REPUTATION

Somehow, some way, the national team has to blow up its reputation. It has to find a way to appeal to all young Canadian hoopsters, regardless of the colour of their skin or where they honed their games.

That may be beyond the realm of any individual coaching candidate. But one way or the other, things won't improve until that nut is cracked.

Sure, Canada Basketball could use a lot more money, but who couldn't? Perhaps the organization is trying to run too many programs, and the funds it does have are being spread too thinly. Regardless, more money isn't coming, so a formula for over-achievement must be uncovered by Leo Rautins, or Mike Katz, or whomever takes over.

Whether you think Triano should have been made the fall-guy or not, the fact remains all of Canada's best players are not playing for Canada. And we're not just talking about the handful of Canadians in the NBA, either.

Yes, Triano did his best. But the national-team program in its entirety -- not just the coach, but everyone -- has to do much better.


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