After four days spent in Toronto at a camp identifying players for the Canadian national team, fourth-year Golden Bears basketball player Jordan Baker is ready for training camp at the U of A this season.
As a player who’s been in the Canada Basketball system for some time, Baker was invited to the Canada Basketball Senior Men’s National Team identification camp. The camp invited players from CIS, the NCAA and the NBA to try out for the purpose of identifying players for the national team who will attempt to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“Ever since high school, my goal has been the Canadian national team. If I were to be lucky enough to make that roster in 2016 and head to the Rio games, that’d be a dream come true for me,” Baker said.
Baker wasn’t fazed much by the pressure of the camp or the intimidation of playing under top CIS coaches, former NBA coach Jay Triano and two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash. After competing at the camp with top level players, Baker was told by these coaches that he exceeded their expectations.
“They said they were pleasantly surprised, which is nice to hear from that level of coaching,” Baker said. “Obviously they said to keep working, but being only 21 years old and at a camp like that, moving towards the Rio games in 2016, I think I made a good impression on the coaches.”
The challenge for the Canadian basketball program remains qualifying for the Olympics at all. Canada hasn’t sent a men’s team to the Olympic Games since 2000, and their only medal in the event is a silver from 1936.
But more confidence is being developed for Rio de Janeiro with the addition of Steve Nash as GM of the program bringing in more top-level talent like NBA players Joel Anthony and Cory Joseph.
“When you see a camp like we had at the end of August, the top-level guys are all in attendance, all committed, all working towards those 2016 games — that’s something we’ve never had before,” Baker said.
“We would bring a team in two weeks before the qualifiers and try to compete with the best in the world, which is not going to happen. To have the four-year plan set up, keeping tabs on guys, making sure they’re doing their workouts is a great step.”
Now Baker has returned to training camp at the U of A, where he’ll try to help the Golden Bears repeat as Canada West champions. The biggest difference for the Bears this season is the change at head coach, with Barnaby Craddock taking over from Greg Francis. This early in training camp, there’s still a learning process for Craddock and his players to get used to one another.
“With Francis, his first three years in the league were his first three years here. He was learning a lot as he was going and we as players were doing a lot of that learning with him. We would always talk about things — we were building our team identity at the same time,” Baker explained.
“Now (Craddock) comes in and he knows who he is as a coach; he’s established himself in CIS. Where a lot of guys are used to having a say in some things, (Craddock) is saying, ‘It’s my way or the highway.’ I think a lot of guys, myself included, are having a tough time adjusting to it, just making a change in how we guard ball screens or how we run transition.
“There’s a lot of Xs and Os, things that are different, but also just establishing himself as a coach with our team and us having to adjust to that.”
But as it’s still early in training camp, the Bears have plenty of time to gel with their new coach before the season starts in November. The pressure is on both Baker as a CIS first team all-star last season and on the team as a whole as the defending CanWest champions, but just like at the national camp, Baker isn’t fazed by expectations at the U of A either.
“I’m happy as long as the team’s doing well,” Baker said. “If I score eight points a game this season and we make it to the nationals and win the national championship, I’m going to be all smiles at the end of the day.”
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