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Canadians eager for valuable hoops experience in Europe

Jay Triano, head coach for the men's basketball team.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

After failing to qualify for this summer's FIBA World Cup, the Canadian men's basketball team is making sure it's prepared to make a run at the 2016 Olympics.

Canada is in the midst of a three-day training camp in Toronto to gear up for an 11-game exhibition trip through Europe. The goal is to have Canada play competitive teams in hostile environments to try and duplicate the valuable international experience the World Cup would have provided.

"Last year, we came up short, we had some injuries; I think it really cost us," veteran guard Carl English said Monday. "This year, we're taking it the right way. We've got 11 games in 15 days so we're trying to simulate a tournament.

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"The ultimate goal is to qualify for the 2016 Olympics."

Canada went 4-4 at last summer's FIBA Americas Championship and fell short of a berth in the World Cup, which runs Aug. 30 to Sept. 14.

So instead, the Canadians will leave Wednesday for a 20-day, four-city road trip. Canada opens Thursday against Slovenia and will also play in Croatia, Italy and Spain before returning home Aug. 13.

"We're going to learn a lot of lessons while we're over there, but it's what these players need," coach Jay Triano said. "We need to learn the international game and that's why we picked these countries."

Canada will play games against World Cup host Spain and qualifiers Slovenia, Ukraine, Croatia (twice), Serbia, Turkey and Angola. They will also play exhibition games with non-qualifiers Georgia, Italy and Bosnia.

Boston Celtics centre Kelly Olynyk said there are advantages to playing in an exhibition series, where results are secondary to team-building.

"Everyone wants to play in the [World Cup]," he said. "I think you could look at it as this is going to be a good opportunity to get as many games as we can to come together as a team, build team chemistry, put in a system where you're not worried about wins and losses as much as you're worried about the experience and trying to get better."

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Added Triano: "In hindsight, this might be a better situation for us. To play so many games on foreign soil, against great competition, we might not have got that at the [World Cup]."

At 33, English is one of the elder statesmen on the Canadian squad heading overseas. He has been with the national program since 2000.

With nearly nine years of experience playing in Europe, the St. John's native will be leaned on heavily.

"It's a totally different game, it's a lot closer, it's team-oriented, the spacing is different and the whole concept of the game is totally different," said English, who signed with Spanish team Iberostar Tenerife earlier this year.

English said teammates in Europe have been inquiring about Canada, especially with players such as Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett headlining the NBA draft.

The University of Hawaii product doesn't shy away from boasting.

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"What I say is our goal is in 2016 to be a top-10 team in the world," English said. "I'm not afraid to say the next [Olympics] that will be past my time [2020 in Tokyo], I'd be very disappointed if these guys weren't a medal team.

"It's fabulous, the young group of talent, and there's more guys coming."

As for what type of game Canada's competition could expect on the European tour, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Dwight Powell says to expect a team willing to compete every night.

"We're always going to work hard, we're going to play hard, play tough and bring a lot of energy," the 23-year-old Toronto native said. "Our biggest thing is trying to play harder than other teams."

Part of the learning experience for Triano's squad is playing in hostile environments.

"You better have a toughness about you and about how you need to play," Triano said. "If you can go in and compete against these circumstances, then when you get on neutral soil or you get to maybe play at home at some point, it's going to be super positive for you.

"It's a great learning experience. Sometimes, I think you have to go through some tough times."

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