Cory Joseph could have skipped the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila, Philippines.
Joseph played in the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship the summer before, and then suited up for the Toronto Raptors.
His past few months has been a taxing grind. The Raptors made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to eventual NBA champions Cleveland Cavaliers, 4-2.
Such grueling schedule can take its toll on any player, but in spite of that grind, Joseph still decided to join team Canada’s squad for the Manila OQT and keep on playing.
“I keep Canada close to my heart.”
“It has been a great year. Playing at home has been huge for me. Whenever I get a chance to play for Canada, it’s always, whenever I get a chance, I am being honored to play for them,” Joseph said on Sunday night, shortly after Canada lost to France, 83-74, in the Manila OQT final.
“I try to go out there and leave it all out on the court.”
Joseph finished with 20 points, four rebounds, and six assists in the final.
It was the 24-year-old combo guard’s first time competing for an Olympic spot, and also the first year he was able to represent his hometown of Toronto in the NBA after playing several seasons with the San Antonio Spurs.
“We’ve got great talent. We have NBA players and guys who are getting more and more familiar with the international game,” head coach Jay Triano said.
“When you can ask our NBA guys to play for our country like they did, especially like Cory who went late in the third round and Tristan who went to the finals and the championship, and still come out, it means a lot for our country.”
Though disappointed that Canada fell short, Joseph said he was still proud of what the team has accomplished not just in the tournament but also in the past year.
“We battled hard. I felt like at the end, Tony (Parker) got it going, hit a couple of beating the buzzer shots, and he hit a couple of threes. We contested them pretty well. It’s just better offense,” Joseph shared. “We had a lot of turnovers. That’s something I just have to work on to get better the next time.”
“We weren’t able to get it done, (but) we fought hard, and I am proud of my guys.”
After Canada finished sixth in the 2011 and 2013 editions of the FIBA Americas, the team came close to taking an Olympics spot outright in the 2015 staging, though settled for bronze. The team also captured a silver medal in the Pan American Games. The team’s women counterparts triumphed in both the Pan Am Games and the FIBA Americas Championship which the country hosted in Edmonton.
Another positive Joseph got from the OQT exposure is going head to head with his mentor Tony Parker. Joseph served as Parker’s back-up under the Spurs in the past.
Joseph said he felt excited to go up against one of international basketball’s all-time greats.
“He is my mentor, I learned a lot from him for the game, preparing for it, having to sit on the bench and watch for a long time. I was excited to be on the court and up against him,” Joseph shared about Parker.
“It was a little bit of revenge and I used the things he taught me, so I knew he was going to know my tendencies out there on the court, like I would know his, so I just try to play hard.”
Parker, who had 26 points in the final, praised the backcourt player 10 years his junior.
“It was great to play against him. He was my back-up for a lot of years. He is a very good friend. He played great for Canada. He had a great tournament,” Parker said.
Triano also said he was proud of how his young team performed, despite of the absences of key players from the line-up. The mentor intends to take away valuable lessons from the experience.
“We are a young team, hopefully we learn and grow from this, but I am very proud of the way that we fought not just this game but all tournament and throughout the summer. Being the youngest team here, it is a good growing experience for us,” he said.
“We are going to keep getting better. We’ve got some great talent in our country and I appreciate the sacrifices the players made but unfortunately we couldn’t get a win and have these guys rewarded by being Olympians.”
On a personal scale, Joseph said being able to represent Canada this summer will also help him grow more.
“Obviously, playing for Canada, we have great coaching staff. On the side, I am still working on my game, still working better, and there’s no better competition you’ll get in the world in summer time than playing,” Joseph said.
Indeed, it has been a tough grind for Joseph, but he is proud to be part of Canadian basketball’s rise. Being able to represent Toronto in the NBA and Canada in FIBA tournaments, Joseph knows he will help in widening the reach of the sport in the country.
The only thing that’s left to do now is to take the next step.
“We need to keep getting that experience. In the locker room, in the summer, in our preparation, and in this tournament, we lost two games. We lost to Croatia and we lost to France. We also beat Croatia. The only two games we lost are the teams going to the Olympics,” Triano shared.
“We are close, but we are not there yet. We have to keep working.”