Canada wins opening match at Olympic basketball qualifier

Men's basketball team beats Turkey 77–69 in one of three qualifying tournaments leading up to Rio
FIBA qualifying basketball 18 teams are playing for a shot at Olympic glory at three different tournaments. (Courtesy of FIBA)

The 2106 Rio Olympics are exactly a month away. Many athletes have already arrived at facilities, getting themselves used to Brazil's famous heat. They're definitely IN. It's just a matter of waiting for the day when they'll finally get to compete.

But for a small group of athletes, qualifying isn't quite over. One of those rare groups is men's basketball. And one of the countries whose team is still looking for a pass to Rio is Canada.

Last chance to make the dance

12 teams will play in this Olympic event, and 9 of those countries are set. There's the host country, Brazil, and the world's number one ranked team, the USA. Then there are top teams from regional tournaments held in 2015 in Asia, Europe, the Americas, Africa, and Oceania (that's Australia, New Zealand, and others).

As for the other three places, FIBA (or the International Basketball Federation) is holding three qualifying tournaments right now, one each in Manila, Philippines; Turin, Italy; and Belgrade, Serbia. Each tournament has six teams in it — the winner moves on to the Olympics, the other five go home.

Canada's Manila thrilla

Canada is one of the six teams in the Manila tournament. Today's match versus Turkey — a 77–69 victory for Canada — was their first game. They play Senegal tomorrow, and then, hopefully they'll be on to the semi-finals! The highest ranked team in Manila (and the team that Canada will probably need to beat at some point to make it to Rio) is France. France is led by San Antonio Spurs superstar Tony Parker. But Canada is no slouch. Parker's ex-Spurs teammate and current Toronto Raptor Cory Joseph has been terrific for Canada (he scored a game-high 21 points versus Turkey). And Canada also has Tristan Thompson, the power forward who just won the NBA Championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers. In other words, the Canadians have a lot of reasons to feel confident.

On the rise

Even if Joseph and his teammates don't make it through this time, many experts feel that this country can expect to be one of the world's best basketball nations soon. (In fact, Canada missed out on qualifying directly for Rio by a single point when they lost 79-78 to Venezuela in the semi-finals of the 2015 Americas tournament.) In the last few years, many Canadians, such as Andrew Wiggins of the Minnesota Timberwolves, have been prized young talents in the NBA. Experts regard Toronto's high school leagues in particular as one of the biggest new basketball hotbeds around. It's still early, but give in time. Four years from now in 2020, don't be surprised if Canada's Olympic basketball team doesn't need qualifiers to make it to Tokyo.

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