Photo by Rick Olivares/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – For Canada head coach Jay Triano, being in Manila for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament is like a strange homecoming.
Triano played for the Canadian National Team that participated in the 1978 FIBA World Championship, which was held in Manila.
“Thirty-eight years ago? That long, huh?" grinned the 57-year old coach". “We even stayed at this same hotel (the Sofitel Philippine Plaza was simply known as ‘the Philippine Plaza back in the 1970s). Of course, it is different now
"I remember that we played a little over 3 years to the day that the Thrilla in Manila was fought,” recalled Triano over a late night chat. The classification round was played at the old Rizal Memorial Coliseum after which the semi-final round moved to the Araneta Coliseum. Canada opened that second round at the Big Dome on October 6 with a loss to Brazil, 69-62.
“Before tip-off, I was thinking, ‘wow, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier had one of the greatest boxing fights ever here. And now I am playing basketball in this same arena.’"
However, this time around, Triano will be leading Team Canada into battle for one of the last 3 slots to the 2016 Rio Olympics in the modern and plush Mall of Asia Arena that is a few minutes drive from the team hotel. “It’s a lot more beautiful,” says Triano of Manila “Although we haven’t been out. But from what I can see from my window on the bus and in the hotel room. We aren’t here to sightsee; we’re here to qualify for the Olympics.”
Triano in fact is the only coach in this FIBA Olympic Qualifying Event to have played and coached in the Summer Games.
“In 1978, it was my first year with the Canadian national team. I was trying to fit in with a bunch of players that I just had met,” shared Triano. "I remember being in awe at some of the talent in front of me. Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union were powerhouses at that time and they ended up playing for the gold medal. Brazil had the great Oscar Schmidt and Marcel De Souza. I remember that we played an exhibition against a local team (the PBA All-Stars) and I couldn’t believe that there were 20,000 people there in the Araneta Coliseum.
“In 1980, we qualified for the Moscow Olympics but didn’t participate because of the Western boycott (due to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan).
“So in 1984, I finally got the chance to play in the (Los Angeles) Olympics. It was exciting. We had to go through the qualification process in the Tournament of the Americas (in Brazil where Canada finished third behind Brazil and Uruguay). For some of us, it was 'finally, we’re going to the Olympics.' It was important for our country, too. Getting to the semi-finals of the 1984 Games helped raise the profile of basketball in Canada.
Triano was the captain of the Canada teams that played in the 1984 and 1988 Seoul Olympics. He coached Canada during the 2000 Sydney Olympics that featured NBA players like Steve Nash and Todd MacCulloch. And now, he hopes to lead this young team to Rio.
"For the last couple of years, we’ve got great talent,” described Triano of this new generation of Canadian ballers. "We’ve been trying to educate them about the international game. Some of them make a living playing in the NBA but some of them play in Europe. playing for the national team takes a lot of pride and we’re the youngest team in this tournament."
One of those young players he has is Tristan Thompson who is coming off a successful NBA Finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“When I think about the 1984 Olympics now, I kind of go, 'Hey, I played against Michael Jordan in the Olympic Games and the Pan-American Games. And he is arguably one of the greatest players of all-time. At that time, because you’re so competitive you just try to play the game and do your best. It’s fun to play against people then you watch their careers unfold, watch then succeed.
"It’s the same with Tristan Thompson who is now playing alongside LeBron James who will go down as one of the best to ever play the game. Tristan's had a great year. I said to him, 'You won a NBA championship. You signed a big contract. Let’s get to the Olympics to top it all off.’"
This FIBA Qualifiers that Triano describes as “big,” his goal is to bring his 12 players to Rio. "I always thought that playing in the Olympics was one of the best things I ever did. But to help 12 players meant a lot more to me. That’s my goal here."
"Our leader and team manager Steve Nash always says it’s a big thing to be a NBA MVP but the biggest thrill he had playing basketball was to represent the country in the Olympics. A lot of our players feel the same way. You can play in the NBA, 5, 6, 7 years but in the Olympics not a lot of people can say they participated.”
Missing NBA players
Although missing a few NBA players in Anthony Wiggins, Nik Stauskas, and Kelly Olynyk, Triano isn’t overly concerned.
"Everyone’s got different reasons for not playing for the national team. Some are personal. Some are contract related. Some are insurance related. I have always been of the philosophy that I am not going to waste my time thinking about the people who are not here but focus on who is here and is willing to play. The 12 here are representing Canada. I wish we had everybody but that’s off-season work. Once the summer starts, my focus is on the people who are here."
Triano compliments US National head coach Mike Krzyzewski and his time working as an assistant for the US national team that won the 2010 FIBA World Championship (Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and company) in Turkey as “great teaching experiences.”
“What I learned from Coach K is how to deal with the pro players. His ability to deal with the pro players as far as structures of the practices, structures of the day, and how to treat the players is a big thing. You want the players to come back and play to represent the country. Being with Coach K, Jim Boeheim, Nate McMillan, Mike D’Antoni - it was like a clinic every day on what great coaches do. You learn and become better."
And now they are here in Manila.
“For 4 days we have to be very good. With the competition that is here you cannot play poorly and hope to qualify.
“I hope once more, I leave Manila with very good memories."
Jay Triano facts:
The 1978 Canada team he played with also featured forward Leo Rautins who was selected 17th overall in the 1983 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. He played on that team that also had rookie Charles Barkley, Moses Malone, Julius Erving and Maurice Cheeks yet lost to the New Jersey Nets in the first round of the 1984 play-offs.
Triano was selected by the Los Angeles Lakers as the 179th pick of the eighth round of the 1981 NBA Draft (he didn’t play for them though).
The 1984 Canadian team he played with also featured Bill Wennington.
For the upcoming 2016-17 NBA season, he will be joining the Phoenix Suns coaching staff of Earl Watson as associate head coach. – Rappler.com