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Canadian basketball taking leaf out of hockey's book

In the wake of a disappointing showing at the Nagano Olympics in 1998, where Canada's best hockey players finished fourth rather than first, the nation's hockey community gathered to decide a path to the future.

The event was the 1999 Open Ice Summit and there are those who think the results of that first ever gathering of Canada's hockey brain trust helped pave the way to a gold medal at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002; a run of dominance at the world junior championship, another gold medal at Vancouver in 2010 and the resurgence of skilled Canadian players at the elite levels of the game.

The Canadian basketball community's goals are necessarily more modest: an Olympic berth, a realistic shot at a world championship medal in the not-so-distant future perhaps and creating support systems to help the growing number of young Canadians playing the game to develop into world-class performers without having to leave the country would be chief among them.

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But in some ways that makes the first-ever Canadian Basketball Congress - which tipped off Thursday night in Toronto - just as impressive. It's one thing to rally the Canadian sports community around the idea of being the best in the world in hockey; it's trickier to generate momentum around the idea of being among the best in the world in basketball.

But it's a notion that has gained the attention of the sport's global power-brokers. Among the attendees this weekend are Patrick Baumann, secretary general for FIBA and Jim Tooley, executive director of USA Basketball and Alberto Garcia, Secretary General FIBA Americas.

But it's the presence of key partners like the Canadian School Sports Federation - the bulk of basketball played in Canada is in the school system, yet until recently the relationship between the sport's governing bodies and the schools hasn't been particularly close - that may have the most long-term impact.

Wayne Parrish, executive director of Canada Basketball is hopeful that having all of the game's stakeholders in one place for a weekend can do what the Open Ice Summit did for Canadian hockey.

"Hockey Canada came away from that with 10 or 11 recommendations that became the rallying cry for the sport moving forward. I would hope that five or 10 years from now the legacy will be that from the time a boy or girl first picks up a basketball in the this country there is a clear path to developing their talent to the maximum of their ability and to do that entirely within Canada, if they choose," Parrish said.

The congress comes at compelling moment for Canadian basketball. The men's national team hasn't appeared at the Olympics since 2000, the women haven't qualified since 1996, but there appears to be some considerable talent at younger age groups. Canada is ranked No. 6 in the world at the under-18 level for boys and No. 3 for girls (compared to No. 23 and No. 12 ranks for men and women, respectively).

"That's kind of the tip of the iceberg; it points to where were headed," Parrish said. "But we need to have all the pieces of the puzzle fit together to make it happen and that's what this congress is about."

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