SIMMONS: The GTA is becoming the basketball capital of the world

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I remember standing with just a few of us next to the mixed zone fence at the Fabulous Forum, waiting for the Canadian national basketball team to quietly leave the court at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

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They had lost that afternoon to Yugoslavia – which is no longer a country – and so missed the chance to play for a medal. The overall standings showed them finishing fourth.

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That didn’t seem as impressive at the time as it feels now. We who stood on the fence thought, illogically, that next time would be different for Canada. Next time they would play for a medal.

This was before Dream Team Basketball and 1992. This was before NBA stars took over the world.

The “next time” will actually come 40 years and 10 Olympics later.

That afternoon, tears rolled down Jay Triano’s cheeks and the same red eyes as the late Eli Pasquale’s. They were the heartbeat of Canadian basketball back then, the best players on Team Canada, the ones who knocked on the doors of the NBA but were rarely invited.

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They could barely speak that day, everyone was so torn, so emotional and so close, trying to explain what almost happened.

I thought about that team and its remarkable coach, the late Jack Donohue, who was never at a loss for words, on Sunday morning as I watched the newest and perhaps greatest version of Team Canada prepare for next summer’s Olympics Paris qualified.

The victory over Spain was fabulous and unexpected and dramatic and heartwarming. I would have liked to hear Donohue explain everything that happened against Spain in his own unique way.

To be honest, I don’t really care about the FIBA ​​World Cup and don’t pay much attention to it in most cases where the tournament is held. But the Olympics are always close to my heart because they are such an important part of my professional life and the winding journey of stories of Canadian players of all sports trying to climb Mt.

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For too long, the problem with basketball in Canada has not just been talent, but talent distribution.

National teams didn’t always have the best players – they had the best players available or most wanted by national team organizers. There has been this huge divide in Canadian basketball for too long. And then Vince Carter’s children showed up – the ones who grew up after Carter made basketball important, especially in Toronto.

The national team that qualified for Paris is almost a team of GTA all-stars. We don’t say enough, brag enough and engage enough about the level of talent that has emerged from Canada in recent years, so much of it from the Toronto area.

It truly is unlike any other place in North America.

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The team’s absolute star, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, was born in Toronto and grew up in Hamilton. What he did for Team Canada late in the Games was something no one had ever done before – not even the great Pied Piper Steve Nash, whose Olympic team finished seventh at the 2000 Olympics in Australia.

Gilgeous-Alexander learned to play in the Toronto area, as did his cousin Nikeil Alexander-Walker, Team Canada’s three-point shooter. The mercurial Dillon Brooks, who was booed in Memphis and was born in Mississauga, played superbly against Spain as Team Canada needed to both advance in the tournament and clinch a spot in the Olympics.

RJ Barrett, son of Rowan Barrett, who captained the Nash team in 2000, was the scoring threat early in the win over Spain. A threat on the boards and in defense was Dwight Powell, who transferred to Earl Haig before finishing his high school years in the USA. Kelly Olynyk’s father was, among other things, a coach at the University of Toronto, and Olynyk plays like he’s a coach’s son.

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Coming off the bench is Kyle Alexander from Milton, Trae Bell-Haynes learned basketball at the high school named after Canadian Olympian Bill Crothers.

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In total, eight of the 12 members of Team Canada – including Zach Edey, who was the US College Player of the Year at Indiana – are from Toronto or are just three points away from the city. And that doesn’t include NBA champions Andrew Wiggins and Jamal Murray, one of whom grew up in Vaughan and the other in Kitchener. Both should be part of the Olympic team next summer.

Take away Lu Dort – he’s from Montreal – and this Team Canada is almost Team Toronto, which alone should be shouting loudly about the level of basketball in the city.

There are no New York players on the U.S. team at the World Cup. There are no California players. There are no Chicago players. America’s three largest cities don’t produce basketball players at a similar rate as Toronto.

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Of the 15 players voted All-NBA at the end of last season, nine were Americans. They came from eight different states, the largest city represented being Houston, where Jimmy Butler grew up.

Gilgeous-Alexander was a first-team all-star. If there had been an all-star team for the playoffs, Murray would have been there. The two were supposed to start as guards for Canada in Paris.

For the best Canadian team we’ve ever seen, a big part of it grew in our own neighborhood.

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