Pan Am Basketball is here – NBA players are not

The 2015 Pan American Games is on the final straightaway heading towards the finish line. This means that a lot of events have wrapped up and others are just about to begin. This includes the finale of women’s basketball and the start of the men’s event.

First off, let’s talk about the Canadian Women’s National Team and its historical gold medal performance against Team USA. The women’s team started the tournament throwing haymakers as they beat Venezuela – not exactly known for its basketball program – in a 101-38 thrashing. Yes, 101 points to 38 points. After sharpening a stick on both ends and driving it into the sand with Venezuela’s head on it, Canada came out strong against the rest of the field and secured a gold medal match up against our biggest rival, the United States. After a poor first quarter, Canada fought its way back to tie the game going into halftime. Canada led the rest of the game and survived a late push by the Americans in the dying seconds of the game. A remarkable storyline here is the 33 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 1 block that 19-year-old Kia Nurse etched in the box score. Nurse showed incredible poise and maturity for someone so young, and will continue her success when she returns to her collegiate hoops home at the University of Connecticut this fall. A great performance for Team Canada and tremendous accomplishment for the Women’s National Team and Canada Basketball! Check out an interview with Kia Nurse in the video below:

Now, let’s preview the men’s event here in Toronto. To be frank, basketball in this year’s Pan Am Games is more so for player development than anything else. This tournament does not count as an Olympic qualifying tournament; that distinction goes to the FIBA Americas Championship in Mexico, Aug. 31 – Sept. 12. And with the NBA Summer League having just ended on Monday, July 20, a number of Canada’s NBA players have not been named to the Canadian roster for the Pan Am Games. But here’s the thing, other countries competing have done something similar. Just have a look at the United States’ Pan Am basketball roster. There’s one insignificant NBA player in Ryan Hollins, and you’ll notice the rest of the roster is made up of collegiate players (prospects) and a handful of guys playing over in Russia. If Canada sent their ‘B’ team to the Pan Ams, Team USA sent their ‘C’ team.

This goes back to my point about the Pan Am basketball tournament being about player development more than program success. Of course each team and player wants to represent their country and play for some hardware, no doubt about that, but let’s be honest here, these games are about the young guys getting some minutes that they won’t see in Mexico.

Anthony Bennett

With regards to the Canadian Men’s National Team in this tournament, there are two players to keep an eye on. The first is Minnesota Timberwolves forward Anthony Bennett. He’s one of two Canadian NBA players on the Pan Am roster (three if you include Sim Bhullar and the three NBA games he played). Bennett’s professional career has been a tale of woe and hard luck since draft night. He should never have been selected #1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. And when the NBA season rolled around, Bennett had to play with the expectations of a #1 pick, something he was truly never meant to be. That has to be hard on Bennett’s mental game. With a new location in Minnesota – and having all eyes on Canadian teammate Andrew Wiggins – Bennett will hopefully ease into his game and figure things out for himself. The Pan Am Games is a great opportunity for Bennett to demand the ball and put in some work. He’ll be part of the team again for the FIBA championship in Mexico, and it’s my belief that if he plays well throughout both tournaments he’ll enter the NBA training camp and pre-season with some much-needed confidence. I can see Bennett finally having his breakthrough NBA season next year if he can build some momentum now.

The other guy I’m interested in watching is Jamal Murray. Next year he’ll suit up for the University of Kentucky, an NCAA basketball powerhouse renowned for its one-and-done players who leap to the NBA once eligible. Barring any extreme injuries or failures next year at Kentucky, expect Murray to be selected in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft. Again, considering this tournament is for the young guys, I look forward seeing him play and getting a sneak peak of what we’ll see in Kentucky and eventually the NBA.

This tournament will be a lead up to the FIBA championship in Mexico, which offers a potential birth to the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro. The men’s team has not qualified for the Olympics since Sydney, Australia in 2000.

Last night Canada opened up with a 105-88 win over the Dominican Republic. This was an expected win and one of many expected wins for Canada in this tournament. You can expect Canada to be playing for gold in the championship game, and likely following the footsteps of the Canadian Women’s team and winning it all.

So there you have it, a quick rant about basketball at the Pan American Games. Although the celebrity factor of NBA players is sorely missing, it is a great way to watch the new kids on the block.

*All image credits can be found on the References & Resources page.