Canadian national team center Tristan Thompson is determined to check another item off his basketball player bucket list.
With Canada moving a step closer to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics in Brazil, Thompson said he is eager to take the win and cap his big year with another achievement to his name.
“Coach Jay (Triano), the coaching staff, and the front office put together a team to come here and win,” Thompson said on Saturday after Canada defeated New Zealand, 78-72 in the semifinals of the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila, Philippines.
“We traveled this far. The guys went to multiple destinations to prepare for this moment. I am glad I was able to join and be a part of this.”
The 25-year-old big man, who recently won an NBA title with the Cleveland Cavaliers, has never played in a World Cup or the Olympics. His last major tournament for Canada was the 2013 FIBA Americas Championship.
“We have one more game. Coach wants to break this tournament down to four quarters. It’s the fourth quarter, we have to be ready. We came this far, we came to put ourselves in a position to win,” Thompson said.
Thompson had 13 points and 10 rebounds against New Zealand, his best game of the tournament so far. He said the Tall Blacks had give them a challenge, but Canada were able to get the crucial breaks towards the end of the semi-finals match-up.
“You got to give New Zealand a lot of credit. They are a well-coached team. Coach had them prepared. They fought to the end. For us, guys dug deep in the fourth quarter, got stops, and that changed the game,” the 25-year-old shared.
Canada head coach Jay Triano also shared that he had stressed the importance of defense in the match just in case the squad struggles with their shots.
“We talked about how we needed to be so good defensively because we might not make shots. Things have to turn for us. We are not shooting the ball the way we are, but I am just happy our guys kept fighting,” Triano said.
“We keep defending, we keep forcing tough shots, we keep forcing them to shoot low percentage against us. That gives us a chance until we start making shots.”
Canada held New Zealand to only 39 percent shooting overall, and 30 second half points after giving up 42 in the first 20 minutes.
On facing France in the final, Thompson said his mindset is the same: go all out, just like what he has been doing with the Cavaliers for years.
“It’s about just coming and bringing energy. With the team, everybody’s got to make sacrifices and identify their roles. Coach Jay set that from Day 1 and for me, it’s just to compete every night and play hard. I am not worried about the stats,” the NBA Champion said.
“For me, it’s competing and doing whatever it takes to win, because winning trumps everything.”