Canada’s men’s basketball team makes a statement ahead of 2024 Olympics

Mar 29, 2024 | Headlines, Sports

In the NBA everything works like clockwork, but the protocol was going to be broken in the Scotiabank Arena an hour before the Raptors tipped off against the Sacramento Kings.

Typically, nobody speaks after the visiting head coach’s pre-game press conference.

But this time was different.

The media centre got packed after Kings head coach Mike Brown spoke. Amid a disappointing season for the sputtering Raptors, a buzz of anticipation was felt among members of the media.

They were looking forward to speaking with someone who broke historical protocols by leading Canada to its first medal in the World Cup last summer after clinching the bronze medal against the U.S.

Jordi Fernandez, the Kings head assistant coach who also serves as the men’s Canada national team coach, spoke about participation in the Paris Olympics of the upcoming summer for the first time.

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“We are very excited, but we’ll have to be physically and mentally ready,” Fernández said.

Quiet in appearance and outspoken in practice, the Spaniard is not afraid of bashing players in public if they don’t do their mission or of telling them off by throwing the basketball clipboard to the floor in timeouts.

He was going to be outspoken again.

“We believe we can get to number 1 in the rankings. And not just get there but sustain it,” Fernandez said. “You need horses, and we have them.”

In Canada’s first appearance in the Olympics since 2000, the national team will be one of the more talented in Paris 2024, along with the reigning Olympic champion U.S., the current World Cup champion Germany and the World Cup’s silver medalist Serbia.

The most intriguing question revolves around the potential Canada can reach if missing stars at the World Cup, such as Andrew Wiggins, Bennedict Mathurin, and especially Jamal Murray, play in the Olympics.

“Doors are open for everybody,” Fernandez said.

“Andrew [Wiggins] expressed his excitement and commitment to the program and to me, that’s the most important thing. Same with Ben Mathurin,” he said.

The national coach said every player is excited to play, and the players who didn’t have the opportunity have expressed their excitement and willingness to compete in the Olympics.

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Oklahoma City Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led Canada in the last World Cup alongside a talented supporting cast of NBA regulars RJ Barrett, Kelly Olynyk, Dillon Brooks and Luguentz Dort.

One of the biggest unknowns is how the national team is the coexistence on the floor between Gilgeous-Alexander and Denver Nuggets star Jamal Murray.

Gilgeous-Alexander told the media ahead of the Thunder’s game against the Raptors on March 22 that both have a similar style as ball-dominant point guards.

Gilgeous-Alexander said it shouldn’t be difficult to get adjusted to it.

“I don’t think it will be anything different from me playing with the guys I played with. I played with a bunch of guys I had never played before last summer,” he said.

“It will just be us trying to do what we do best and impact the game in that way and being unselfish,” he said.

Dort, the other Canadian on the Thunder, said Fernandez has a significant role in the team’s recent success.

“He is a really intense coach who is going to really get us going before the game,” he said. “The way we practice, the way we approach the games going against those types of teams.

“He just hyped us up to go out there and compete, was insane. Jordi is a guy with a lot of emotion, really loud and with a lot of energy,” Dort said.

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As Fernandez headed to the court, he talked to reporters about his ties with Canada.

“Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “Sometimes it’s inexplicable. I think destiny has wanted Canada to be an important part of my life.

“If not the best, the opportunity to coach Canada is one of the best things that has happened to me in my life,” Fernandez said last week.

Besides coaching the national team now, he became an NBA head coach, albeit briefly, for the first time in his career in Toronto after Sacramento’s head coach, Mike Brown, was ejected in the Dec. 22 Kings-Raptors game.

He was interviewed by the Raptors last year to replace the fired head coach Nick Nurse. Darko Rajakovic was finally the chosen one.

Nurse also ended his ties with the national team, but by resigning, Canada Basketball landed Fernandez at the end of June 2023, and he led the Canadians to the bronze medal in the World Cup.

“Everything happens for a reason. I think we can be better and we are going to be better,” Fernandez said.