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Canada's men's basketball program a growing force after influx of young talent

Marc J. Spears
Yahoo Sports

After winning one Olympic medal in almost a century of existence, Canada's men's basketball program has received an influx of young talent, including the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft (Anthony Bennett) and the top newcomer to college basketball (Andrew Wiggins).

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Andrew Wiggins will play for Kansas next season and could be the top pick in the 2014 NBA draft. (AP)

And some of those young Canadian players think mighty USA Basketball should start to worry about its northern neighbors.

"Most definitely," said Cleveland Cavaliers forward and Toronto native Tristan Thompson. "They still have the Chris Pauls, Kevin Loves, those guys that are talented.

"But as they start getting older, we're going into our prime with young guys that are talented and can make noise."

Canada's lone Olympic medal in eight appearances was a silver in 1936. The Canadians also have never medaled in 12 world championships. Two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash has been Canada's biggest basketball import.

Canada's influence on the sport, however, has begun to grow over the past five years. The Cavaliers selected Thompson with the fourth overall selection in 2011. Bennett, another Toronto native, became the first Canadian picked No. 1 overall when the Cavs selected him in this year's NBA draft. Cory Joseph, also from Toronto, was a member of the San Antonio Spurs' rotation during their march to last season's NBA Finals.

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The Cavaliers made Anthony Bennett the top pick of the 2013 NBA draft. (USA Today Sports)

"Canadian basketball is growing as we speak," Bennett said.

Said Thompson: "It's a blessing and big for all of us in Canada. I feel like I'm the grandfather and [Bennett] is the young pup."

Boston Celtics rookie Kelly Olynyk of Vancouver was arguably the best player at the Las Vegas summer league. Orlando Magic forward Andrew Nicholson, Miami Heat center Joel Anthony and Los Angeles Lakers center Robert Sacre are also from Canada. Wiggins, a Toronto native, this year became the first Canadian to win the Naismith Award given to the top high school basketball player.

"The development of any country is based on the talent playing in that country," Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Canada is bursting with talent right now."

And Wiggins could become a defining player for Canada's national team. He will be a freshman at Kansas next season and is projected to be the top pick in the 2014 NBA draft. Wiggins is the son of former NBA player Mitchell Wiggins, an American, but chose to stick to his mother's Canadian roots and passed on an opportunity to play for Team USA.

"I'd never want to turn my back on my country like that," Wiggins previously told Yahoo! Sports. "That's where I'm from. I have good times here. The program treats me right. USA already has a name for itself as a basketball country. Canada has not really established that yet. I want to be one of the reasons why we establish that."

The development of basketball talent in Canada was helped when the NBA put two franchises – the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies – in the country in 1995. Vince Carter was an NBA dunk champion in 2000 and was one of the NBA's most popular players when he played for the Raptors from 1998-2004.

The success that Nash, now Canada Basketball's general manager, has had in the NBA has also helped grow the sport. And Krzyzewski credits Canada Basketball's decision to hire Jay Triano, a former Raptors coach and USA Basketball assistant, as coach.

"I know a lot of people look up to Steve Nash," Bennett said. "But to be honest, I don't know if there is one single guy that really changed the whole thing.

"As a kid, I used to watch Vince Carter. Vince Carter in Toronto putting down dunks was just crazy. It was something I wanted to do. Every time the Raptors were on I watched and every time he threw down a dunk I would be happy."

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Metta World Peace wants to stop animal abuse
Airman wows with windmill dunk at USA Basketball Showcase
Derrick Rose says he's the best player in the NBA

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