Czech hero Satoransky calls game on Canada at FIBA qualifier in Victoria

What a crazy way not to go to Tokyo.

Canada, with 8 NBA players, were 5 of 29 from three and trailing by 9 with about a minute to go.  Toronto-based commentators on TV and online were already apologizing for Canada’s failure to qualify for the Olympics since 2000. Despite all the growth of Canadian talent, Team Canada still resembled the team that couldn’t hit shots at the 2010 world championships in Turkey, and the mid-size team that couldn’t handle bigger teams such as Venezuela in 2015 as well as Lithuania and Australia in 2019. 

But the veteran Czechs, who out-rebounded the smaller Canadians 52-39, missed free throws and had trouble with Canada’s full-court press.

Suddenly, Canada became a nation of sharpshooters, with Lu Dort, RJ Barrett (23 points) and Andrew Wiggins (22) hitting desperation jumpers from behind the arc to tie it at the end of regulation time. 

Now it looked like the Czech’s turn to lament the death of their Olympic dream. But coach Ronen Ginzburg told them: “Just calm down. It’s a new game. Zero zero. You have to come back to the game. It’s all about mentality. Our team has a winning mentality.” 

The Czechs fell behind early in overtime, then rallied to tie the game. With seconds left, Ginzburg wanted to call a pick and roll, but Czech leader Tomas Satoransky told him that he wanted to go one-on-one against Dort, a fearsome NBA defender. “I trust him. I believe in him,” said Ginzburg after the game. “He made one of the best games of his life. They (Czech players) are winners. They believe that they can do it. Even if sometimes we play against a better team.”

Satoransky, who plays for Chicago Bulls, made a spin move on Dort and hit a bank shot to give Czech the lead 103-101.

“I asked him if he called bank, and he said he called game,” quipped Blake Schlib, who made 7 threes and scored 31 points for Czech after spending a year away in the US with his family during the pandemic. “I’ve known Saty since he was a teenager. To see his evolution as a player and a person, it’s exciting. He’s a great leader.”

Canada still had a chance to tie it, and Raptors coach Nick Nurse drew up a play to give Trey Lyles an open look from the baseline. Born in Saskatchewan and raised in Indiana, Lyles had 11 rebounds, a gash above his eye, and probably a sore elbow from hitting Czech bigman Ondrej Balvin, who had 19 rebounds, on the back of the head and drawing blood as well as an unsportsmanlike foul. Lyles’ jumper to tie the game appeared to go down, but jumped out of the rim. 

Czech advanced to the final in Victoria, while Canada again failed to qualify for the Olympics.

Satoransky, who had 18 points, praised the resilience of his team. “it was a little bit of a bad dream the way we ended that game. We were up 10 and they kept fighting. But I’m so proud of my team that we found the strength when nobody thought we could get up from that.”  

“It’s tough. It hurts,” said Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who sparked Canada with 21 off the bench. “We fought from 10 with one minute left. Then to go into overtime… and go out this way. You just have to tip your hat. He hit an incredibly tough shot.”

Andrew Nicholson said the team was disappointed, but Cory Joseph made a speech in the locker room about “light at the end of the tunnel”. 

Nurse called it a learning experience for his young team. “They made a bank shot, and our’s went in and out,” he said. “This (Czech) team led the 2019 World Cup in three point shooting, and they have tremendous size. They surround them with really good shooting.”

While Canadian fans will always remember Nurse as the coach who brought the NBA championship to Canada, he said he would evaluate whether he would continue to coach Team Canada. He praised the talent, personality and work ethic of the players. “I’m not making any excuses. We had our chances,” he said. “I told the guys that this is a difficult year. There was a drastic roster turnover for us.”

“I’m very disappointed for these guys,” Nurse added. “They committed and we worked super hard and we prepared hard and they played their guts out. When you do all that you want them to be rewarded for  it.”

“I love coaching this team. I love Toronto. I’m just trying to help basketball grow.” 

(words and images copyright Christopher Johnson Globalite Media all rights reserved)