Former Raptor Matt Bonner still waiting, hoping for Canadian citizenship

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TORONTO - More than two years into his quest for Canadian citizenship, Matt Bonner remains grounded by red tape.

So the former Toronto Raptors forward will have to watch with fingers crossed as Canada's men's basketball team bids this week for a berth in the 2012 London Olympics. And then he can only hope he receives his passport in time to suit up next summer if the Canadians do qualify.

"I'm just kind of waiting and hoping," Bonner said in a phone interview. "It's just one of those things. It's hard to talk about because it's kind of a bummer for me. I just wish it would go through so I could represent the country."

The 31-year-old, now with the San Antonio Spurs, owns a home in Toronto. His wife Nadia, whom he met while playing for the Raptors, and daughter Evangeline-Vesper — they call her "E.V." — are Canadian. He also has a grandfather from Newfoundland.

Yet, Bonner's application for citizenship has already been denied once based partly, according to Canadian coach Leo Rautins, on the amount of time he spends in the country.

"I feel bad for him, he's dying to play, he wants to play," Rautins said after a recent practice in Toronto. "One of the concerns is that he doesn't spend enough time here, but he's an NBA player where you've got only 450 jobs, so if you're not on the only team in Canada, you don't really have a choice of having to be in San Antonio three quarters of the year, so it's out of your hands."

Bonner said his passport isn't all about basketball. He plans to make his permanent home in Toronto once he retires from playing, and so he would apply for Canadian citizenship regardless.

"I just thought it would be awesome to be able to get my passport and represent my country on the national team," Bonner said.

With his long-range shooting ability and veteran presence, the six-foot-10 Bonner would be a huge boost to Canada's young squad.

The Canadians tip off the FIBA Americas tournament Wednesday against Brazil in Mar Del Plata, Argentina, before facing the Dominican Republic on Thursday, Cuba on Friday and Venezuela on Saturday to wrap up the preliminary round.

The first two finishers earn automatic berths in London, while the third- through fifth-place finishers will play in a second-chance qualifying tournament next summer to determine the final three Olympic entries.

Bonner was a fan favourite in his two seasons in Toronto (2004-'06), nicknamed the "Red Rocket" for his red hair and the fact Toronto public transit, which bears the same nickname, was his main means of transportation.

The would-be Canadian said there couldn't be a better time to play for Canada, with the ongoing lockout threatening to ground the upcoming NBA season.

"That would be sweet," Bonner said of playing this week in Argentina.

He'll be keeping a close eye on how Canada is faring.

"Absolutely, I know all those guys, it's a great group of guys and they work hard," said Bonner.

He'll have a new Canadian teammate when the NBA season does eventually tip off. Cory Joseph of Pickering, Ont., who's playing for Canada in Argentina, was selected 29th overall by San Antonio in the NBA draft in June.

In the meantime, Bonner will be in Toronto on Sept. 10 for the "Rock the Court" charity event to raise money for Athletes for Africa and St. Alban's Boys & Girls Club.

Bonner will lace up his sneakers alongside his friend and Arcade Fire front man Win Butler, Dallas Green of City and Colour, plus Spencer Hawes of the Philadelphia 76ers, among others.

"What a lot of people don't know about (Butler) is he loves basketball and he's actually really good," Bonner said of the multiple Grammy winner who attended prep school in New Hampshire, near Bonner's hometown of Concord. "We just became friends over the years, I like the music and he likes basketball."

The University of Toronto will host the charity event.