‘Starting to build a culture’: Wiggins’ commitment to Canada sends strong message

Andrew Wiggins’ recent commitment to play for Team Canada delivered a strong message.

On top of boosting the group’s chances at this summer’s last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament in Victoria, the announcement also erased any narratives regarding Wiggins’ dedication to play for his country.

In the latest episode of CBC Sports’ video series North Courts, host Vivek Jacob and guests Meghan McPeak and Jevohn Shepherd discuss the impact Wiggins will have with the national team while also taking a look at the rest of the Canadian roster ahead of the qualifying tournament.

The 26-year-old Vaughan, Ont., native hasn’t made an appearance for Canada since the 2016 Olympic qualifying tournament in Mexico City. And he was criticized after he didn’t join Canada for the last-chance qualifier in 2016 in the Philippines, where Canada would ultimately be eliminated by France.

WATCH | North Courts crew discusses national team ahead of Olympic qualifying tournament:

This week on North Courts, Vivek, Meghan and Jevohn discuss the upcoming Olympic qualifying tournament in Victoria, and their favourite Canadian playoff moments. 19:33

But with his announcement over Instagram dispelling any notions about his heart not being behind the Maple Leaf, the North Courts crew explains how Wiggins can carry his solid NBA season over to the international stage and help lead Canada as one of its best talents.

“You take Jamal Murray and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander out of the picture and he is the best Canada has to offer,” Jacob said.

Shepherd, a former national team player, believes the biggest thing to take away from Wiggins’ commitment is what it will mean for the team’s identity, both now and in the future.

“When you have Murray, when you have Wiggins committed to this program, we’re starting to build chemistry now and build a culture of basketball that’s going to be played on that level for years to come,” Shepherd said.

Depth throughout lineup

Canada must win in Victoria to earn a spot in Tokyo for what would be its first Olympic appearance in 21 years, but the rest of the roster is deep.

The panel makes the point that along with players like Wiggins, Canada boasts a key group that includes valuable veterans who have proven themselves and will need to be counted on once again.

“I think sometimes with a new wave and new talent we’re forgetting that we have guys that have experience. A guy like Cory Joseph has been the life of this team, and you’re going to need that going forward,” Shepherd said.

McPeak also shines a light on the defensive prowess Canada’s Dillon Brooks has displayed during his emergence with the Memphis Grizzlies this season.

While the status of fellow Canadian NBAer Gilgeous-Alexander is currently up in the air, the North Courts crew doesn’t see his commitment making or breaking Canada’s chances at the upcoming qualifying tournament due to the overall depth the team possesses.

Jacob points out that Joseph, Kelly Olynyk and Tristan Thompson and are among a group of vital players that have stepped up before for Canada and can’t be dismissed.

With international basketball presenting a different style of play, the value Kevin Pangos can bring to the team also shouldn’t be overlooked.

“He’s one of the top international point guards in Europe right now, and I think having that experience bodes well for a team going into international play, going into FIBA play,”  Shepherd said.

The men’s basketball qualifying tournament in Victoria will coincide with three others in Croatia, Lithuania and Serbia between June 29-July 4. Coverage on CBC begins June 29 at 7 p.m. ET. with Canada taking on Greece.

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