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Andrew Wiggins skips Canada’s Olympic qualifying tournament

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Canada will be without its best player, Andrew Wiggins, as it tries to qualify for its first Olympic men’s basketball tournament since 2000.

“After much thought, consideration and speaking with my family, I will not be participating in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament with the Canadian Men’s National Team in July,” Wiggins reportedly said in a statement Friday. “As my third NBA season approaches, I understand my increased role with the Timberwolves and dedication to the upcoming season must have my total focus. We are building a championship contending team, which has always been my goal. This was definitely not an easy decision and I fully support and wish Team Canada nothing but success this summer.”

Canada Basketball announced 19 players for a tryout and training camp from Friday through Wednesday ahead of a winner-goes-to-Rio, six-team qualifying tournament in the Philippines from July 5-10.

The 19-man list does not include Wiggins, who led Canada in minutes and points at September’s FIBA Americas, where the team was stunned in the semifinals by Venezuela, forcing the Canadians to next month’s last-chance qualifying tournament.

It also does not include fellow NBA players Tristan Thompson (playing in the NBA Finals), Kelly Olynyk (shoulder surgery), Nik Stauskas and Trey Lyles and NBA Draft prospect Jamal Murray from the University of Kentucky.

The list is led by NBA guards Cory Joseph and Tyler Ennis.

“Given the time of year, player availability is always changing. We’re continuing to talk to teams and players may become available as the summer progresses,” Canada general manager Steve Nash said in a press release. “Playing for your country is an honour, we have a deep pool of talent who are committed to playing for Canada and we’re ready to get to work.”

Canada will have its work cut out in the Philippines, where the field includes World bronze medalist France, which is expected to be led by Tony Parker.

MORE: Canada’s Rio Olympic promo video shot outdoors in winter

Andrew Wiggins not yet committed to Canada Olympic qualifying

Andrew Wiggins
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Canada might have to attempt to qualify for Olympic men’s basketball without Andrew Wiggins.

The Minnesota Timberwolves star was asked this week if he will play in a winner-goes-to-Rio qualifier in the Philippines in July.

“Cross that bridge when we get to it,” Wiggins said, followed by a laugh.

That’s a different mindset than last April, when Wiggins committed to play for Canada in an earlier Olympic qualifier, the 2015 FIBA Americas.

Wiggins and Canada were stunned in the FIBA Americas semifinals by Venezuela last September, forcing them to this July’s last-chance qualifying tournament.

Wiggins led Canada in minutes and points at FIBA Americas and paced the Timberwolves in both categories this past NBA season.

Canada will have its hands full at the July qualifier against a field that includes Tony Parker and France.

Canada last qualified for Olympic men’s basketball at Sydney 2000.

MORE: U.S. Olympic basketball teams to stay on cruise ships in Rio

Canada’s return to Olympic basketball on hold after heartbreaking loss; Argentina qualifies

Venezuela
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Canada came oh-so-close to making its first Olympic men’s basketball tournament since 2000 on Friday but will now have to wait until one month before the Rio Games for its last chance to qualify.

“Our dreams have just been put on hold,” Canada coach Jay Triano said, according to TSN.

The Canadians, with nine NBA players on their roster, lost 79-78 to Venezuela, with zero NBA players on its roster, in the FIBA Americas semifinals in Mexico.

With the game tied 78-78, Venezuela guard Gregory Vargas was fouled on an offensive rebound with three tenths of a second left (a call held up after review) and hit the first of two free throws to clinch his nation’s first Olympic basketball berth since 1992.

“It was David versus Goliath and we came on top, we leave everything out there,” Venezuela coach Nestor Garcia said, according to The Associated Press. “This is an historic day for Venezuela. Many people doubted that we were capable of this.”

Venezuela joined the U.S., Brazil, Australia and Nigeria in the Olympic field so far. Later Friday, 2004 Olympic champion Argentina beat Mexico 78-70 in the other FIBA Americas semifinal and became the sixth nation to make the Olympic field that will eventually be 12 teams.

Canada, Mexico and fifth-place Puerto Rico advanced to a global, last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament in July.

Canada has the talent to compete for a medal in Rio, should it qualify.

Its FIBA Americas roster featured NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins, Toronto Raptors guard Cory Joseph and Boston Celtics center Kelly Olynyk, who had game highs of 34 points and 13 rebounds against Venezuela.

For the Olympics, it could add Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson.

The talent is much deeper than the 2000 Canadian Olympic team that had two NBA players — eventual two-time MVP Steve Nash and center Todd MacCulloch.

Nash, now the general manager of Team Canada, has said as much and described that 2000 team as “out for a scrap.” It lost by five points to France in the quarterfinals, just missing the chance to play for a medal in Sydney.

Nash was reportedly sobbing and had to be dragged off the floor after that defeat, but he recovered to smuggle beer into the Closing Ceremony the following Sunday.

Canada owns one Olympic basketball medal — silver at Berlin 1936, the first Olympics to include basketball.

Venezuela’s roster at FIBA Americas included Kobe Bryant‘s cousin John Cox. It could add Milwaukee Bucks guard Greivis Vasquez for the Olympics.

Argentina, which has played the U.S. in the last three Olympic semifinals, qualified for Rio without stalwart Manu Ginobili, who at 38 has likely played his final international game.

Argentina’s team at FIBA Americas included 2004 Olympic champions Luis Scola and Andres Nocioni.

MORE BASKETBALL: Five Olympic questions with Steve Nash

*Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported Gregory Vargas was fouled while shooting with three seconds left.