Canadian Men's Team Reunites To Celebrate Olympic Run

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October 8, 2010
Jay Satur --

At the tail end of the Toronto Raptors’ recent training camp in Vancouver, head coach Jay Triano joined members of the Canadian National Men’s Team to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the team’s impressive run at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

That group featured Triano on the sidelines in just his second year as Senior Men's National Team coach and an impassioned Steve Nash captaining a talented, balanced squad that had Canada captivated with wins over the host Australians, Spain and powerhouse Yugoslavia before bowing out in the quarters against France.

But while their impressive 5-2 run didn’t result in a podium finish, the friendships and memories that have endured have proven much more valuable.

“The games and the outcomes? They're great because they were positive, but I don't remember them as much as the friendships we have,” said Triano. “The friendships are the things that will be with us for always and I think you can see that tonight.

“This is a very tight group of people that has accomplished something in the past that maybe many Canadians will never accomplish again.”

It’s a bond that was forged through basketball but has remained strong through bocce.

Raptors strength and conditioning coach Jon Lee was the driving force behind Tuesday's milestone reunion on the West Coast, a role he’s happily played annually at his home with a ‘Beer and Bocce Cup’ that’s expanded over the years to include significant others.

It’s Lee’s way of showing his appreciation for getting the chance to join a group that he says are still like brothers – an opportunity presented to him by Triano when the pair were both with the then Vancouver Grizzlies.

While serving as the director of community relations at that time, Triano learned he was to take on the role of national team coach and tabbed Lee – then a ball boy with the franchise – to serve as Canada’s team manager.

“Never in my wildest dreams would I think that me being a ball boy for the Vancouver Grizzlies would ever take me to an Olympics and create a bond with all of these guys including Steve (Nash) and all these guys at this table and get me to a job in Toronto as the assistant strength and conditioning coach,” he said.

Shawn Swords can relate to getting such a break from Triano. The former shooting guard nearly missed his opportunity with the national team when he was nearly cut prior to a preliminary tournament leading into Olympic qualifying.

At the last minute, Triano elected to keep an assistant coach at home a give the Swords a chance as a 13th-man to prove himself during the 10-day trip.

“From his words, I cemented my place on this qualifying team and ultimately, the Olympic team, just by my mannerisms as a teammate, a role player buying into the system that he dealt,” said Swords.

That decision did more than give Swords an opportunity to play. He’s internalized those lessons from Triano and now tries to teach similar values and principles to his own players as the men’s team head coach at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario.

“He really taught me to grow as a player and grow as not being the best player on the team, but as a player that’s just as equally important to the team. He taught me that my value is just as important.”

It’s a lesson plan Triano should need to revisit this season as the Niagara Falls, Ontario native leads a Raptors team that’s faced a summer of scrutiny given their perceived lack of a superstar that can carry them.

Sherman Hamilton, a long-serving national team guard and assistant coach who now covers the team daily with Raptors NBA TV, sees some similarities between those Triano-coached teams.

“There are some parallels and I think Jay understands that,” says Hamilton. “He's going to figure out ways to motivate his team, to get the best out of them and I think that's all you can do when you've got a roster you feel can be successful, but they have to play at a high level every night.”

In an age where advanced basketball metrics spit out projections on individual stats and team records down to an exact number, Triano is relishing the surplus of bulletin board material for his Raptors this season.

“The thing that I like is that with this group 10 years ago, nobody thought we were going to go to the Olympics and then when we did, nobody thought we were going to do anything at the Olympics and I kind of feel that way about this Raptors team,” said Triano.

“I think the prognosticators have us 15th in the East and I like that. I like when people tell us we can't do something. It motivates me, I think it motivates our players and that's our constant checklist every day as to why we have to have a drive and why we have to prove other people wrong.”

After looking back a decade to Sydney with several of the alumni around the room, you can feel that same defiant sense of confidence exuding some 10 years later.

For current Raptors NBA TV analyst Rowan Barrett, visualizing that goal was made possible after a huge qualifying win over Puerto Rico in San Juan at the Tournament of Americas in 1999.

“We didn't change anything technically, we just finally believed. We saw it (the Olympics) and envisioning that it just made the game a formality and we beat them going away. That's got to be one of the endearing memories that I take with me today.”

That belief fueled a memorable run and when it finally ended against France in Sydney, an emotional Nash sought a silver lining with an impassioned hope that Canadian kids would be inspired pick up the game. It appears that in the coming years, his wish may be fulfilled.

With a new generation of talented Canadians receiving plenty of buzz as they move through the developmental ranks, many of those at the Vancouver reunion have high hopes for the future, but warned that ability is just one component.

“This group didn't have the talent that our young players have, but they had the cohesion and the togetherness that maybe no other group can rival,” said Triano. “If we can ever get to that point where we can have our talented players care and compete the way these guys did, we're going to be back threatening for medals.”