Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker, left, looks to pass the ball against San Antonio Spurs’ Joel Anthony during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Phoenix on Oct. 3, 2016. Joel Anthony rarely turns down a chance to suit up for Canada.The 35-year-old from Montreal will lead Canada’s men’s basketball team at the FIBA AmeriCup tournament that tips off Sunday in Argentina, which is preparation for qualifying for the 2019 World Cup in China. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Ross D. Franklin

Canada counting on huge pool of players to get them to 2019 World Cup

TORONTO — Joel Anthony rarely turns down a chance to suit up for Canada.

The 35-year-old from Montreal will lead Canada’s men’s basketball team at the FIBA AmeriCup tournament that tips off Sunday in Argentina, which is preparation for qualifying for the 2019 World Cup in China.

“I really do just love the opportunity to represent my country,” said Anthony, a 10-year NBA veteran. “It’s like coming back home. I’m usually in the States so to be able to come back and be with everyone, see old friends, it’s kind of like Thanksgiving. I enjoy it.”

FIBA has completely overhauled the qualifying format for both the World Cup and Olympics, and the new schedule, with games falling smack dab in the middle of the NBA season, calls for some creative personnel moves.

So while Anthony and fellow NBA veteran Andrew Nicholson might be on Canada’s roster in Argentina, they know they’re part of a revolving door of Canadian players, and there’s no telling what the roster will look like if Canada qualifies for the World Cup.

“It’s a reality,” Anthony said. “It’s something that the guys understand. It’s obviously a different format, something no one’s ever seen before so it’s hard to say (whether it will benefit Canada or not). With us, honestly, it could be more difficult because of our presence in the NBA now, and them not being able to play during different parts of the tournament season.”

This FIBA AmeriCup has become merely an exhibition tournament, which no qualifying ramifications. Qualifying for the 32-team World Cup now features a two-round tournament of home and away games. The World Cup, in turn, is a major qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Canada is in Group D in the Americas zone for World Cup qualifying, with first-round games against the Virgin Islands, Bahamas, and the Dominican Republic. Canada will host the Bahamas on Nov. 24 in Halifax in their first qualifier.

Roy Rana, Canada’s head coach for both the FIBA AmeriCup and the Halifax game, said the program’s revolving-door of players has bought into the new format.

“Some of this is really just understanding the nature of the new qualifying format, that in itself is a challenge,” said Rana, who coached Canada’s U19 team to a world title last month. “They’re going to have to be invested in a different way because we’re going to have such a larger pool of players available, just as there is for coaches. This has opened a unique opportunity for myself just as it has for some of them.”

Jay Triano remains the men’s head coach, but handed the reins to Rana for upcoming qualifiers because of a conflict with the NBA season. Triano is an assistant with the Phoenix Suns.

“There’s a tremendous amount of trust between us, we have some great basketball conversations,” Rana said of his relationship with Triano. “He’s been really, really good at allowing me to use my own strengths and some of the things I’ve done with teams, and blending in a lot of the things he’s done with his team. It’s all about a community. It’s not about my way, it’s about ‘let’s find the best way.”’

Canada’s first-round World Cup qualifying will see them play at the Dominican Republic on Nov. 27. They’ll be back in action in February with games at the Virgin Islands and Bahamas. The next block of games are next summer, with the top three countries after the first round advancing to the second.

Triano said the new format will take some getting used to, but on the plus side gives players the rare chance to play games at home. Also, the expanding player pool has allowed newcomers such as Ammanuel Diressa, a standout with Rana’s Ryerson Rams team, and Grandy Glaze, who’s toiled in the NBA’s G-League for five seasons, a chance to pull on the Canadian jersey.

“Certainly Grandy Glaze is one that people in Canada aren’t familiar with and just has this unique energy to him and a toughness that will have a major impact on this group,” Rana said. “I’m proud about Manny Diressa… I’ve said over and over I think he’s one of the most talented guards I’ve coached, and I’m happy to see everyone else is seeing that now.”

Canada tips off the FIBA AmeriCup against the Virgin Islands on Sunday, then plays Argentina on Monday and Venezuela on Tuesday. The semifinals are Sept. 2 and the final is Sept. 3.

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