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Laurentian coach looks to put men's basketball back on map

By the time the 2016 Olympic Summer Games roll around in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, only a dozen Canadian male basketball players will have experienced the thrill of the event over a period covering almost 30 years.
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Laurentian Voyageurs head coach Shawn Swords. Supplied photo.
By the time the 2016 Olympic Summer Games roll around in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, only a dozen Canadian male basketball players will have experienced the thrill of the event over a period covering almost 30 years.

Laurentian Voyageurs head coach Shawn Swords was part of the 2000 team that travelled to Sydney, Australia, finishing seventh. That squad is the only national team that has qualified for competition over the past six Olympiades — a period dating back to the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea.

Over the weekend, Swords was part of an effort to rewrite a more positive basketball legacy in this country. Along with a small handful of teammates from the 2000 team, Swords was in Toronto as Basketball Canada introduced Jay Triano as national team head coach.

Small surprise, as Triano was also the man at the helm a dozen years ago when Canada competed with a roster that included the likes of Steve Nash, Rowan Barrett, Greg Francis and Todd MacCulloch.

When it comes to outlining the message he wants to share with those players hoping to crack the top 12 in the World in 2016, Swords speaks from experience.

"No matter what the talent, you have to be willing to sacrifice for the team," he said between sessions of a training camp that was staged, Aug. 24 to 28, at the Air Canada Centre.

Ironically, Swords is far more confident in the ability of the current crop of rising hard court stars to tackle this challenge than was the case at the turn of the millennium.

"The talent level in Canada is ridiculous right now," he said. "There is no doubt at all we have the talent to be there."

That said, Swords acknowledged that there is some work ahead in terms of restoring the attraction of participation in a national team program that last medaled at the Olympic Games in 1936.

"We have to get the players invested in each other and invested in the program," he said.

Still, with a current training camp roster that features NBA and NCAA stars Joel Anthony, Tristan Thompson, Myck Kabongo and Cory Joseph, and with two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash installed as general manager, there is a sense of optimism that has been lacking for years.

For coach Swords and others, it's a chance to do whatever they can to help put Canada back on the world map in men's basketball.


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