Canada’s return to Olympic basketball on hold after heartbreaking loss; Argentina qualifies
Canada came oh-so-close to making its first Olympic men’s basketball tournament since 2000 on Friday but will now have to wait until one month before the Rio Games for its last chance to qualify.
“Our dreams have just been put on hold,” Canada coach Jay Triano said, according to TSN.
The Canadians, with nine NBA players on their roster, lost 79-78 to Venezuela, with zero NBA players on its roster, in the FIBA Americas semifinals in Mexico.
With the game tied 78-78, Venezuela guard Gregory Vargas was fouled on an offensive rebound with three tenths of a second left (a call held up after review) and hit the first of two free throws to clinch his nation’s first Olympic basketball berth since 1992.
“It was David versus Goliath and we came on top, we leave everything out there,” Venezuela coach Nestor Garcia said, according to The Associated Press. “This is an historic day for Venezuela. Many people doubted that we were capable of this.”
Venezuela joined the U.S., Brazil, Australia and Nigeria in the Olympic field so far. Later Friday, 2004 Olympic champion Argentina beat Mexico 78-70 in the other FIBA Americas semifinal and became the sixth nation to make the Olympic field that will eventually be 12 teams.
Canada, Mexico and fifth-place Puerto Rico advanced to a global, last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament in July.
Canada has the talent to compete for a medal in Rio, should it qualify.
Its FIBA Americas roster featured NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins, Toronto Raptors guard Cory Joseph and Boston Celtics center Kelly Olynyk, who had game highs of 34 points and 13 rebounds against Venezuela.
For the Olympics, it could add Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson.
The talent is much deeper than the 2000 Canadian Olympic team that had two NBA players -- eventual two-time MVP Steve Nash and center Todd MacCulloch.
Nash, now the general manager of Team Canada, has said as much and described that 2000 team as “out for a scrap.” It lost by five points to France in the quarterfinals, just missing the chance to play for a medal in Sydney.
Nash was reportedly sobbing and had to be dragged off the floor after that defeat, but he recovered to smuggle beer into the Closing Ceremony the following Sunday.
Canada owns one Olympic basketball medal -- silver at Berlin 1936, the first Olympics to include basketball.
Venezuela’s roster at FIBA Americas included Kobe Bryant‘s cousin John Cox. It could add Milwaukee Bucks guard Greivis Vasquez for the Olympics.
Argentina, which has played the U.S. in the last three Olympic semifinals, qualified for Rio without stalwart Manu Ginobili, who at 38 has likely played his final international game.
Argentina’s team at FIBA Americas included 2004 Olympic champions Luis Scola and Andres Nocioni.
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*Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported Gregory Vargas was fouled while shooting with three seconds left.