Canada goes to the FIBA World Cup.
Kassius Robertson’s 16-point performance helped Canada’s men’s basketball team beat Venezuela 94-56 on Thursday to clinch a spot in next summer’s major international tournament.
“Obviously it’s a good feeling,” said Thomas Scrubb, who finished with 12 points and four assists and traveled across the Americas for all nine of Canada’s qualifying games.
“It’s a lot of different windows, a lot of travel, so to be able to do it at home and pretty early in the process is good for us. Now we can focus on the World Cup ahead.”
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Owen Klassen had 11 points and 10 rebounds for Canada (9-0), while Kenny Chery had 12 points and six assists.
Canada absolutely dominated Venezuela, outscoring the visitors 54-26. The Venezuelans couldn’t get offensive boards to stretch possessions, and got just five second-chance points on the night.
“We really talked about recovery in preparation for this game,” Klassen said. “We looked at the two big guys they have and they average four offensive rebounds a game. It was our focus to take their games away and let the guards get the rebounds if they had to.
“We wanted to make sure those guys don’t get second chances.”
The two Venezuelan rebounders Klassen referred to were Miguel Ruiz and Nestor Colmenares, and they were each held to two offensive boards.
Chery, all of five-foot-11, finished with seven rebounds, which spoke to Canada’s commitment on the defensive end.
“It’s five guys who bounce back every time,” Klassen said.
Jhornan Zamora led Venezuela (7-2) with 14 points and three rebounds.
The game’s start time was pushed back 25 minutes due to the Venezuelan team’s late arrival. When Canada took the floor for pre-match warm-ups, the Venezuelans were still nowhere to be seen.
Canada came out hard early in the first quarter and pressured the Venezuelans, who had just gotten off a plane a few hours before the game.
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“We were told from the beginning that it might be a bit of a diversionary tactic, so we were pretty much locked in,” Klassen said. “We were laser-focused. We’ve seen articles on the news that they don’t have visas, that if they’re going to get on a flight, it’s going to be the same day.
“But we came to play a basketball game. We were ready regardless.”
The Venezuelan did not speak to the media after the match.
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Most leagues around the world break for the FIBA qualifying windows, but not the NBA. So, the Canadian team that qualified on Thursday was almost entirely made up of players who ply their trades in Europe.
“It means a lot,” said Robertson, who plays for Italian club Reggio Emilia. “Many of us come from far away to come and play these games. For me, and I can speak for a lot of guys on the team, it’s almost like a vacation for us.
“We are very focused, but to be with our compatriots and to be on Canadian soil is amazing for us.”
With Canada putting high pressure on the ball, and often double teaming the player on the dribble, the Venezuelans missed their first six shots. Of their first eight attempts, three were air balls. It took nearly four minutes for the Venezuelans to hit a shot, a Zamora three-pointer.
A big block by Klassen, stopping a Windi Graterol layup attempt, brought the Edmonton crowd to its feet. Canada closed the first quarter 25-10.
Venezuela went on a nine-point run in the second quarter to cut the deficit to 10 points, but that was as close as they got.
In the second quarter. Klassen had the highlight reel basket of the first half, finishing off an alley-oop pass from Chery.
Canada stretched the lead in the third quarter and outscored Venezuela 24-11 in the frame. If there was any life left in the visitors, it was taken out of them by Robertson, who hit a three-pointer, was fouled in the act of shooting, and iced the game at four points by making the free throw.
By the fourth quarter, with the result well in hand, baskets from the visitors drew polite applause from the home crowd.
Although Canada has clinched, winning its remaining matches could improve its world ranking and improve heading into the World Cup. And while many World Cup roster spots go to Canadians who play in the NBA and thus weren’t available for this qualifying window, Scrubb said the players who are here owe it to the program to give it their all, even if they cannot be selected for the World Cup itself.
“The guys that are here, we have to play hard and represent our country well,” said Scrubb.
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