TORONTO - Jay Triano has set a gruelling summer schedule that will see Canada's men's basketball team play six games in six nights — in three different countries.
It won't be easy. But then again, that's the point.
"We want it to be challenging. You've got to go through these tough times in order to build your team," said Triano, Canada's head coach.
The Canadian men failed to qualify for this summer's basketball World Cup, and Triano said it was obvious at the qualifying tournament that what his young squad needed was international experience. So Canada Basketball set up this summer's European tour that will see the team play 11 games between July 24 and Aug. 12. Among their opponents: five of the world's top-15 ranked teams.
"We're playing Slovenia in Slovenia, Croatia in Croatia, Spain in Spain. . . we're going to be in some crazy basketball environments. And it's what we need, we need to get these players playing the international game and understanding it a little bit more, when the conditions aren't perfect," Triano said. "That was the goal.
"We could have a training camp and bring guys in. But these guys train all year round with their respective NBA teams, we wanted to make sure we got more experience playing the games."
Among their opponents, the 25th-ranked Canadians will play No. 2 Spain, seventh-ranked Turkey, Serbia (11), Slovenia (13) and Angola (15).
Eight of the 11 teams will be using the games as part of their preparation for the World Cup.
"The other three — Italy, Bosnia and Georgia — are kind like us, they're playing games to get better and not have an off summer," said Triano, who's also an assistant with the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Canadian players will gather in Toronto for a three-day camp, July 20-22 at the Air Canada Centre.
With several of Canada's top young players such as Andrew Wiggins and Tyler Ennis gearing up for the June 26 NBA draft, Triano isn't sure who he'll have this summer. Wiggins, Ennis, Nik Stauskas, along with several other Canadians hoping to hear their name called in the draft, are currently travelling around the NBA, working out for teams. They'll head from the draft to play in the NBA summer league.
"It's going to be a lot of NBA players on our team. But there are probably four or five guys who are in the draft that we have to wait until they get drafted and then confer with their team and then decide in conjunction with their team and their agents and them what's best for them," Triano said. "Obviously we would love them all to play this summer but we also have to build a relationship with them moving forward and it's going to be a busy summer for the guys who are in the draft."
He'd like to take a page out USA Basketball's book and have players commit to more than one year.
"We can't just all of a sudden, first time they play for our national team, is next summer at the Pan American Games, and then we've got to try to qualify for the Olympics," Triano said. "We're trying to build a basketball program, but we still have to be respectful to the fact that these guys are trying to get their careers on track and trying to do the right thing with the NBA."
Triano said he'll field his strongest team at next summer's Pan Am Games in Toronto. It's perfect preparation for the FIBA Americas qualifying tournament for the Rio Olympics. Plus, it's in Toronto, "so that's exciting," he said.
With the likes of young stars like Wiggins, coupled with talented NBA players such as Tristan Thompson, Canadian men's basketball could be on the cusp of enjoying unparalleled success.
"I would say the only negative is that we're just so young. Even our NBA players are very very young players," Triano said — Thompson (Cleveland Cavaliers) is only 23, while Andrew Nicholson (Orlando Magic) is 24.
"This summer is a great summer for them, they can play lots of games, and we play in crazy environments like the international game sometimes presents," Triano said. "And we'll see what we get from that experience and then next summer we've got the Pan Ams here in Toronto and then the Olympic qualifying tournament later in the summer."
Canada went 3-4 to finish sixth at last summer's FIBA Americas qualifying tournament for the World Cup. One of their victories came against eventual winner Mexico.
Triano pointed out his young team was up against the likes of Luis Scola (Argentina/Indiana Pacers), who at 34 years old is well-versed in the international game, and 32-year-old Jack Martinez of the Dominican Republic.
"It's just the savvy play," he said. "And that's why when we finished we said we had to find a way next summer to play more international games."