Time to rebuild

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:14 AM ET

Damn that Steve Nash.

He was just too good.

Just about everyone wanted to play with him. And why not? He had a way of making up for the shortcomings of his teammates.

But Nash is 31 years old now. After years of supplementing his gruelling NBA career by carrying the Canadian men's national basketball team through the summer months, he understandably doesn't have the energy to do it anymore.

What we're left with is a rebuilding process for Canada Basketball. It absolutely is required in the absence of alternatives, but there will be some painful arrows to the heart along the way.

That became obvious earlier this week when the Canadian kiddie-corps, under new head coach Leo Rautins, failed in its bid to qualify for the 2006 world championship. Canada went 1-3 in the qualifying tournament in the Dominican Republic -- the one victory came against the United States -- and was bounced from the competition after the first round of play.

A disaster?

Well, mathematically, you can't put much of a positive spin on it.

But given the state of the program and the work that needs to be done, heck, Canada might have been better off just skipping this event and concentrating on trying to qualify for the 2008 Olympics in China.

Canada probably never is going to be a world power in basketball. There are too many things stacked against it, the most obvious of which is the lack of a national pro league where home-growns could play.

But Nash's performances at least used to put a nice coat of paint on Canada Basketball. Now he's not playing anymore, and the paint has peeled off.

What's more, there were a number of veteran Canadian players who got used to playing with Nash, and now they aren't all that interested, either. In this instance, that translated to throwing youngsters like Denham Brown, Carl English and Juan Mendez to the wolves, in the hope their sacrifice will build a foundation.

"Sure, you have a bunch of veteran Canadian players with experience, but if they say they don't want to play, or if they're unable to play, what do you do?" Rautins asked rhetorically yesterday, on the phone from Santo Domingo.

"If we had our two NBAers (Nash and Jamaal Magloire), plus all the other guys who couldn't or wouldn't be here, we would have had the best team. We definitely had enough talent on the floor to win, but a lack of experience got the best of us. We had by far the youngest team. It was tough, but I don't think the guys got down."

In the coming years, it will be Rautins' job to keep the likes of Brown, English and Mendez enthused about playing for their country.

Rautins said if Canada Basketball had wanted to approach things differently this summer, it might have run only one program instead of having an under-18 team and an under-21 team and a world university games team and a world-championship qualifying team, etc.

"That may not have made a difference here (in Santo Domingo), but you never know," Rautins said.

Regardless, it was important to run all those programs, because the goal is to try to construct a Canada Basketball framework that does not rely exclusively on NBAers riding in on white horses just before international tournaments.

Nash's white horse is exhausted. And while Magloire always says he wants to go for a ride, he never gets up into the saddle.

"We need to create a competitive environment, so that if one or two guys decide they don't want to play, it doesn't ruin us," Rautins said.

"That's where the problem has been."

Is there a solution?

"The solution," Rautins said, with equal measures of frustration and hopefulness, "comes with what we're trying to do."


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