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Canada looks to secure Olympic berth

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MANILA, Philippines—Playing for an NBA championship wasn’t enough to keep Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson from joining Canada’s national team with an Olympic berth on the line.

The 25-year-old centre played more basketball this season than most players in the league, with his campaign not ending until June 19 when the Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the NBA Final.

He was named to Canada’s 12-man roster yesterday and will attempt to lead his country in one final Rio Games qualifier tournament in Manila, Philippines.

Canada will play in Group A of the six-nation Olympic qualifier, with round-robin games against Turkey and Senegal. The Philippines, France and New Zealand will play in Group B.

The top two teams from each group in the preliminary rounds will move on to the semifinal crossover games.

Those teams will then compete in the finals, with the champion qualifying for Rio.

Thompson joined his Canadian teammates in Manila and has been practising with the group in the lead up to the tournament. Triano’s message to the Brampton, Ont., native was simple.

“I told him, ‘Let’s make it a great year. You signed a great contract (with Cleveland), you’re an NBA champion, let’s make you an Olympian.’ And he said, ‘That’s what I’m here for, coach.’”

“Here’s a guy who couldn’t play last year because he didn’t have a signed (NBA) contract but he was at almost all of our practices while in Toronto with the uniform on... He’s got a lot of pride, always has for this country.”

Toronto Raptors guard Cory Joseph, Milwaukee Bucks guard Tyler Ennis and Detroit Pistons forward Joel Anthony were also named to Canada’s squad, along with Shai Alexander, Anthony Bennett, Khem Birch, Melvin Ejim, Brady Heslip, Levon Kendall, Philip Scrubb and Thomas Scrubb.

Canada will be without some of its NBA talent that dressed in the 2015 FIBA America’s Championship for various reasons. Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins and Philadelphia’s Nik Stauskas declined to play, while Boston’s Kelly Olynyk is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery.

Triano doesn’t want to dwell on their absences.

“The one thing we talked about as a staff and team is we are just gonna focus on the players here representing Canada,” said Triano. “We can’t waste time thinking about people who aren’t here. We have to focus on who’s here that wants to represent Canada this summer.

Triano says he’s liked what he has seen so far at practice from his group, especially their speed. He’s satisfied with the front-court tandem of Thompson and Bennett while the addition of Joseph gives the coach a different look in the back court.

“Playing with more than one point guard is something we’ve talked about... We kind of like the way its working out for us right now. Tyler (Ennis) has been good and we have to find a way for him and Cory to be on the floor at the same time.

“We think that our speed at both the guard and forward position are two things we’re trying to use to our advantage.”

Canada hasn’t qualified for the Olympics since the 2000 Games in Sydney. The Canadians will open their tournament July 5 against Turkey.

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