CANADIAN BASKETBALL AT A TIPPING OFF POINT


FIBA U19 World Cup Gold Medal Signals Canada’s Rise


Guest Post from Aubrey J. Lovery, Director, Growth & Strategy, TORQUE Strategies

The cultural significance that the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship commands in Canada has always fascinated me. That we usually refer to them as, “The World Juniors”, no descriptors required, is a testament to its ubiquity. But I’m a first generation Canadian and my family is from India- huddling the family together the day after Christmas to watch Canada’s U20 hockey team was not a part of our holiday traditions. But it’s precisely that for millions of Canadian families, no doubt in part because of the holiday season, but also for the national pride it stirs. Team Canada is often a medal contender and it’s a chance to catch a glimpse of the next great Canadian stars – our pipeline of future talent and success.

One day we might look back on this past weekend as the start of a new Canadian summer holiday tradition. For the first time in our nation’s history, Team Canada won a gold medal in international basketball competition: the FIBA U19 Men’s World Cup, broadcasted nationally on TSN. Unlike hockey, we weren’t strong medal contenders going into the tournament but we were surely favourites after toppling the indomitable USA in the semi-finals- another Team Canada first. And we caught a glimpse of the next great Canadian stars, like 17 year old tournament MVP, R.J. Barrett of Mississauga, ON.

A POWDER KEG OF POSSIBILITY

I know we’ve got a ways to go before families are huddled around TVs, phones or tablets at the cottage for the U19 World Cup but the notion isn’t far-fetched anymore. Basketball has come into its own because we love to watch our country succeed on a big stage. Players like Steve Nash – Victoria native and godfather to aforementioned U19 MVP, R.J. Barrett – inspired a generation with his back-to-back NBA MVP awards. That generation became top-10 draft picks, like Andrew Wiggins and Jamal Murray. The surprising success of the Toronto Raptors in recent years, both in basketball and in pop culture, has also given the game a higher profile across the country. It’s been a slow burn but now we’re sitting on a powder keg of possibility.

THE NEW CANADIAN GAME

On top of that, Canada’s demographics continue to shift in favour of the game invented by a Canadian. By 2036, nearly half the population is projected to be immigrants or children of immigrants, with more than half being Asian-born. Countries like China will continue to make up a large share of immigration growth, a country that already has hundreds of millions of fans watching and playing basketball. The relatively low barriers to entry will continue to make it an attractive participation sport for many cash-strapped immigrant families that want to get their children active – basketball is already the second most popular team sport for new Canadians aged 3-17.

ON THE WORLD STAGE

While the demographics of the fan base continue to develop, Canada Basketball is moving into its first renaissance. There are currently 14 Canadians actively playing in the NBA and 3 in the WNBA (with 6 Women’s Senior National Team players in the NCAA). Most of them will form the core of the Men’s and Women’s Senior National Teams.

Our women’s teams have been solid. Led by University of Connecticut’s Kia Nurse of Hamilton, ON, they currently rank sixth in the world and reached the quarter finals of the 2016 Rio Olympics. They’ll continue to prove themselves at the 2017 FIBA Americas Championship, the 2018 FIBA World Cup and finally the 2019 FIBA Americas Qualifiers for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Now, while the Men’s Senior Team has not reached the same heights, their progress is unmistakable. Led by Cory Joseph, recently traded from the Toronto Raptors, they reached the finals of the last two FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments, coming up one game short (perhaps one quarter short) of a berth into Rio 2016. They will be locked into FIBA’s, “Road To The World Cup”, this year and next: 6 competition windows including home-and-away games that determine the field for the 2019 FIBA World Cup, all nationally televised. Canada needs to earn a top-two seeding in the Americas division at the World Cup to reach Tokyo 2020. The powerhouse that is Team USA won’t stand in the way, they’ve already earned a bye thanks to their 2016 Olympic games’ gold medal.

THE FUTURE COMES IN THREES

The IOC recently announced that 3-on-3 basketball, or 3X3, will be an official Olympic sport for Tokyo 2020. It will be another event that cultivates basketball’s popularity but it also opens up an exciting new opportunity for young players. The half-court games of pick-up they’ve been playing in the park may not lead them to the NBA but they could be a path to Olympic glory. Canada Basketball has not determined the process for selecting Team Canada yet but the foundation exists. This weekend, July 15th-16th, the City of Saskatoon hosts its first FIBA 3X3 World Tour event. It’s the only tour stop in North America and Canada will compete among 12 teams from across the globe, with the winners earning a spot at future international tournaments. Saskatoon will host the 3X3 World Tour for the next three years so our best 3X3 players are guaranteed a shot at competing against the world’s best on home soil before the Olympics.

When we take a step back, the FIBA U19 gold medal is really just icing- our current men’s and women’s senior teams, and the potential for 3X3 basketball, are the cake. Like The World Juniors (of hockey), our World Champion U19 Men’s Team represent the promising pipeline of future Canadian talent and success. As a fan or just a proud Canadian there’s never been a better time to huddle around our heroes of the hardcourt. And as a brand, there’s never been a better time to get in on the ground floor to leverage some of the high value assets that Canada Basketball can offer- front of jersey sponsorships, Road To The World Cup, Steve Nash Youth Basketball, 3X3 tournament naming rights and more- to tap into the swell of national pride that’s tipping off around Team Canada.

*Infographic Sources: Repucom, 2015, Canadian Youth Sports Report, 2014