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Basketball bronze over U.S. has a golden glow for Canada

Overtime win over world power gives Canada its first FIBA World Cup medal
Canada forward Dillon Brooks (24) dribbles past U.S. forward Mikal Bridges (5) during the Basketball World Cup bronze medal game between the United States and Canada in Manila, Philippines, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS-AP-Michael Conroy

Canada stamped itself on the international stage with its first-ever medal at the FIBA Men’s Basketball World Cup on Sunday. And emotions were high.

Dillon Brooks scored a game-high 39 points and Canada survived a fourth-quarter comeback by the U.S. to win 127-118 in overtime and claim bronze in Manila, Philippines.

“I think it’s phenomenal,” Canadian team general manager Rowan Barrett told The Canadian Press. “There’s lots of emotions as you can imagine. It’s much more difficult when you’re not playing, I’ll tell you that much.

“I feel like it’s a great moment for our country. It is tremendously difficult to come to these events and win.”

The medal was also Canada’s first on either the World Cup or Olympic stage since 1936 when Canada earned silver at the Berlin Games.

The second-ranked Americans went on a 12-0 run to take the lead with 6:23 remaining. They sent it to overtime with 0.6 seconds left.

But the 15th-ranked Canadians outscored the U.S. 16-7 — allowing just one field goal — in the extra session to pull away.

“As a former player and now as an executive, I’m really, really proud because I saw Canadian grit with this team,” Barrett said. “Body blows was our mantra and I think you could see that today, especially coming out of that fourth quarter with the way the U.S. came back.

“For our guys to regroup, come back and take that game in the moment, it’s everything that we’ve been preaching and it’s everything that we’ve been doing, pretty much all tournament long. It’s a great moment, this is a ‘Where were you when it happened?’ type moment.”

Brooks set a Canadian single-game scoring record for most points in a World Cup, topping Carl Ridd’s mark of 37 in 1954.

He went 7-of-8 from three-point range and 12-of-18 overall from the field. Brooks, who plays for the NBA’s Houston Rockets, was also named defensive player of the tournament.

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 31 points, six rebounds and a game-high 12 assists for Canada, with RJ Barrett — Rowan’s son — adding another 23 points and seven rebounds.

Gilgeous-Alexander was named to the tournament all-star team.

Canada booked its ticket to the Paris 2024 Olympics by advancing to the quarterfinals last Sunday, ending an Olympic drought dating back to 2000 when Rowan Barrett played in Sydney, Australia.

He said the World Cup result adds some “buoyancy,” “excitement” and “expectation” in looking ahead to the Olympics in 2024.

Steve Nash — a Basketball Hall of Famer and member of Canada’s Olympic team in 2000 — shared a post of Canada winning the medal with three joyful teary-eyed emojis on his Instagram account.

Brooks’s high school coach Paul Melnik from Father Henry Carr Catholic Secondary School in Toronto expressed his pride for the player and the Canadian team via X, formerly known as Twitter.

“To say I am proud of @dillonbrooks24 and his teammates is a massive understatement … what a great group … historical …” Melnick wrote.

Dwayne Washington, who coached Gilgeous-Alexander and RJ Barrett in their time with the UPLAY Canada AAU team as youngsters, wasn’t surprised by their performance Sunday, but said the accomplishment was great for the country and youth basketball.

“I’m so excited for them,” Washington said. “But you understand that this was put in place when both of those guys got called up (to the senior team) in 2016.

“Everybody was complaining … saying politics, this and that … But obviously there was a plan in place by, I guess Rowan Barrett, who had the mindset of looking towards the future. And so we got a lot of heat because they were in our club and they were the best players.

“You fast forward and everyone has selective amnesia. The Canada Basketball guys, they saw the talent and regardless of politics, they set the ball in motion.”

Lu Dort, another Oklahoma City guard, scored 11 points Sunday and was a defensive stalwart throughout the tournament.

Nelson Osse coached Dort with the Brookwood Elite and Parc Ex Knights programs in Montreal, and was thrilled for the player.

“Lu never seems to stop amazing me and always doing the impossible,” he said. “Talk about a kid, first day he walked in my gym (at 12 years old), barely knew how to make a layup.

“Fast forward a few years, he goes undrafted, fought back, tried to earn a spot, became a major piece on his (NBA) team, signs a new contract. So everything was not given, everything was not easy.

“Just seeing him on the big stage at the World Cup, being a big piece on this Canadian team that just made history. It’s just another dream come true for him and his family. Just so happy and proud of him.”

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