There were plenty of moments when Nick Nurse was watching the Tokyo Olympics that he couldn’t help but imagine Canada playing there.
Nurse and the Canadian men’s basketball team had to watch the Olympics from afar after Canada failed to qualify, but the coach stated seeing the continuity, commitment and culture of excellence entrenched in the teams that did get to Tokyo led to important conversations with his players.
On Monday, Nurse signed a three-year contract extension as Canada’s head coach through the 2024 Paris Olympics. He’d like a similar commitment from Canada’s best players.
“There were certainly some moments of longing to be [in Tokyo],” Nurse said. “I think anytime when you’re coaching a team and you’re watching the teams that are still playing, you’re thinking ‘We could be in that game.’ Even if it’s the NBA playoffs and you’re sitting there thinking, ‘Oh man, we could be in that game.’ Some of that was going on, for sure.
“But the most interesting thing for me was a lot of communication back and forth via text with the players who had just played in Victoria (in the FIBA last-chance qualifying tournament), we talked about the teams that had been together for a while and we kept seeing the same theme.”
The 54-year-old was hired as Canada’s head coach in 2019, the same year he led the Toronto Raptors on their historic NBA championship run.
Boasting the best NBA depth in Canadian history, hope for the national men’s team ahead of Tokyo had been at an all-time high.
But Canada’s hopes evaporated in a 103-101 overtime loss to the Czech Republic in the semifinals of their last-chance qualifier. That heartbreaker ended a crazy three years that saw a revolving door of more than 30 players help Canada qualify for the 2019 World Cup in China.
Canada could have qualified for Tokyo in China, but with just two NBA players — Cory Joseph and Khem Birch — on that roster, Canada finished a disappointing 21st.
While there are obvious chunks of games that eliminate NBA players due to conflicts, such as early World Cup qualifying windows this November and February, Nurse would like the core group of the country’s best to commit to at least playing the next couple of summers together.
“It would not be a revolving door, it would be the exact opposite of what we did in the last three years,” Nurse said. Nurse stated while it took a couple of days for the heartbreaking elimination to sink in, “the road for us to Paris started about 48 hours after the Victoria Olympic qualifying tournament.”