Canada Basketball needed Friday night the way a man engulfed in flames could use a glass of water.
That's is a best stab at capturing the meaning of Canada earned a spot at the 2010 world basketball championship with an 80-76 win over the Dominican Republic at the qualifier in San Juan, Puerto Rico. As Doug Smith of the Toronto Star wrote, "The magnitude of the win cannot be overstated. With solid development programs at the under-19 and under-17 levels, Canada desperately needed to see some success at the senior level to give the teenagers something to aspire to."
There is hope, to borrow that overused one-word aphorism. It was furnished by Jermaine Anderson, Carl English, Levon Kendall, Andy Rautins, Jesse Young and a Carleton Raven, Aaron Doornekamp. None are household names with the rank-and-file Canadian sports fan, although Aaron might be pushing for the status of being Ernestown Secondary School's most famous alumnus after those two cooler-than-freon three-pointers he drained in the fourth quarter to keep the Dominicans at bay. Whatever is to come — and there is lots more to come — for Canada on the court, Friday felt like a catalytic event.
Please remember, if you are so inclined, which group of quote, unquote obscure Euro-ballers helped with this big step forward. Canada had only NBAer at this tournament, the Miami Heat forward Joel Anthony. The team was still celebrating when Leo Rautins told TrueHoop that he wants to have a few more NBA players next summer in Turkey. He's hoping Steve Nash will take time out from saving the world to lace up for his country one last time. The San Antonio Spurs forward Matt Bonner, an ex-Raptor who is married to a Toronto woman, is taking out citizenship. Bonner would be a good fit into the FIBA game, which prizes a big man who can shoot. Rautins is hopeful of getting Jamaal Magloire (don't hold your breath).
Meantime, as Smith alluded to, Canada has a lot of young talent coming up such as Junior Cadougan, Mangisto Arop, Kelly Olynyk, Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson. Some of the guys who were on the floor Friday will be pushed out in the years to come, such is the nature of sports.
Perhaps the San Juan crew will stand out in time the way Blue Jays fans remember Doug Ault and Bob Bailor. They got it started.
It is understandable if people do not consider Canada earning its first world berth since 2002 as a big deal. The only Team Canada most people across this great country care about, let's be honest, is the one with skates and sticks which will hit the ice in Vancouver next February at the Olympics. That is fine. However, some do believe being a proud Canadian and having a serious basketball jones can overlap, no matter what is implied by Molson's ads.
Maybe there is no deeper meaning to that beyond just loving basketball. Cheering for Canada on the hardwood, with the U.S. having such a larger player pool and so many resources devoted to hoops, is a lesson in being an underdog. It also seems to evoke the doubt Canadians are always going to face. That's why it's awesome, speaking as someone from the same corner of the world, to see that Doornekamp played a significant role in the final minutes with those two threes. He's had doubters all along, being from Odessa, having played at a smaller high school, making the national team from a CIS school, and he has come out shining.
It is almost seems like living in the past to play up that Aaron is an ESS grad, but then again there are not many Eagles even compared to other Kingston-area high schools, so attention must be paid. Imagine some young baller, maybe in Toronto, or Vancouver, who will grow up to represent his country. He might never hear of places such as Odessa, or Patrick's Cove, N.L., Carl English's hometown, but a small debt will be owed to those places. And that's pretty cool.