Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
WASHINGTON — If the Olympics moves to an under-23 basketball format for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro games, Andrew Wiggins believes Canada could compete for a gold medal.
“We can win it all,” the 6-foot-7 Wiggins told SNY.tv exclusively before going for 24 points and 7 rebounds in Canada’s 100-86 loss to U.S. MVP James Young and USA Midwest in the championship game of the Nike Global Challenge Sunday at the D.C. Armory.
Young led all scorers with 29 points, including 5-of-10 from deep, and 10 rebounds. Nick King added 23 points and 10 rebounds before taking a shot to the face and being carted off on a stretcher. Arkansas commit Bobby Portis had 18 and 10, and Wesley Clark scored 14.
That’s a strong statement by Wiggins’ considering his team lost in the final and Canada’s Senior National Team isn’t even qualified for the 2012 London Games.
But Wiggins — a potential lottery pick in the 2014 NBA Draft if he reclassifies to the Class of 2013 — is leading a new wave of Canadian talent.
That wave includes the 17-year-old Wiggins, Indiana commit Trey Lyles (21 points),point guard Tyler Ennis (18 points) and shooting guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes (14 points). Combined, the group went 3-1 here, including a win over USA East.
The NBA wants to pull basketball’s top players out of future Olympic Games and model the 2016 Olympics on the U23 format used in soccer.
The plan, proposed by NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver, is to save the NBA’s best players for a basketball World Cup modeled on the soccer equivalent. FIBA would organize the event and the NBA would profit, as opposed to the International Olympic Committee making money.
If that happens, the U.S. roster for 2016 could include young stars like Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Austin Rivers, Bradley Beal, Andre Drummond, Jabari Parker and Tyus Jones, as the New York Post recently pointed out.
Led by Wiggins, the No. 1 prospect at the Global Challenge, Canada could feature a team that includes UNLV’s Anthony Bennett, the 6-8 Lyles and the 6-3 Ennis, all potential future pros.
Young Canadian stars like Tristan Thompson of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Cory Joseph of the San Antonio Spurs, Kyle Wiltjer of Kentucky and Khem Birch of UNLV would just miss the cutoff since they will be over 23 in 2016.
“I think our talent can match their talent,” Wiggins said of the U.S. “I think it would be a well-fought game, close game. I don’t think anyone can really say that one team’s better than the other.”
Roy Rana, the head coach of the Canadian junior national team, said he hopes the Olympics remains with players of all ages, but said many of his current players will one day play for the Canadian Senior National Team.
“We’re still hoping that it will be the best in the world at the top age group, a true senior men’s event,” Rana said. “But a lot of these guys that you’re seeing here are going to represent our Canadian Senior National Team down the road.”
If his Canadian charges did play an American U23 team led by the likes of Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Beal, etc., how would they do?
“That’s a pretty special U.S. roster,” Rana said. “Every time we think we’re getting closer, the talent is just unbelievable in the U.S. at the younger age groups. But certainly we’re closing the gap a little bit. It’s really going to depend on how these kids develop over the next three, four years.”
One key advantage this Canadian core has it that they play together all the time — on the junior national team, with the CIA Bounce AAU team and in various groups at St. Benedict’s Prep and Huntington (W.V.) Prep.
“There’s a lot of good young Canadian players playing in college right now and in the NBA, so they look like they’re on an up-cycle, said Fran Fraschilla, the ESPN college basketball analyst who is an expert on international basketball.
Fraschilla said a U.S. U23 team would still be “the prohibitive favorite” for the Olympics, but the lack of cohesiveness on such a team could be a concern.
Such a team would be thrown together, whereas countries like Argentina, Brazil and Spain, those countries that “have the youth pipeline,” would have an advantage, Fraschilla said.
“We would still have the best talent because we’d have the best under-23 talent in the world but we’d have to be concerned about continuity and cohesiveness because we’ve seen talented USA teams in the past be beaten by teams that play better together,” Fraschilla said.
Ennis, the St. Benedict’s guard being courted by Syracuse, Louisville and Illinois, likes the idea of a U23 Olympics because it would help Canada bridge the gap to the U.S.
“I think it would make it a lot more competitive because the U.S. blows out everybody so now if they do that it would be a lot more even with the [American] college players,” Ennis said.
“The U.S. is going to have the talent at every age group, but I think Canada, if we do that, we’ll have just as much talent as the U.S.”
***For SNY.tv.’s exclusive video documentary on Canadian point guard Tyler Ennis, click here.
**2012 Nike Global Challenge International and US All-Tournament Teams
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.