Gilgeous-Alexander rocks Hamilton crowd in World Cup qualifying

HAMILTON—My town. My game.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the local kid playing basketball in his hometown for the first time in about six years, put on a performance of sorts here Friday night in his senior Canadian debut.

The 23-year-old Oklahoma City Thunder guard dunked on first possession and took full control in the third quarter as Canada beat the Dominican Republic 95-75 in a qualifying game for world Cup.

His 15-point third quarter was a gem. One sequence in particular – adamant blocked shot, jump shot, charging grab – electrified the crowd and will remain a lasting memory for many who got to see him play in person for the first time.

He did not disappoint. Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 32 points, 20 in the second half, along with five assists and five rebounds.

« It was so fun to see all the people who watched me grow up when I was in high school were there to watch me play today, » he said. « Something I can’t describe. It was great fun. I knew this day was coming, and it happened exactly how I wanted it to.

As his teammates wanted too.

« It’s a privilege to play with a guard like that, » said Kelly Olynyk, 31. « Fun to see, and I think everyone here had a treat. »

All in all, it was a splendid night for Canada Basketball and a senior men’s team that hadn’t played in southern Ontario since Canada Day weekend in 2018.

The game drew a crowd of over 6,000, which doesn’t sound like a ton, except the beloved Hamilton Tiger-Cats were playing a home game a few miles away at Tim Hortons Field, and Canada Basketball isn’t traditionally a huge draw.

In 2018, at the Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto, the senior men attracted a smaller audience than those who showed up here on Friday night for a similar World Cup qualifier against the Dominican Republic.

And since senior men so rarely play in Canada with anything substantial at stake, it could very well have been their biggest crowd in Ontario since the 1994 World Cup, split between Toronto and Hamilton. Full boxscores with official attendance are not readily available, but those who saw nearly every game in this period would not recall such large crowds.

The Canadians put on an impressive show for them, especially after a slow start attributable to only a four-day training camp for this game and Monday’s game in the US Virgin Islands.

A sloppy start — five turnovers in the first quarter, 2 for 10 team shots from inside the three-point line — gave way to the NBAers’ spurred dominance on the roster.

Gilgeous-Alexander, his cousin Nickeil Alexander-Walker of the Utah Jazz, Olynyk of Detroit and Dwight Powell of the Dallas Mavericks were just too good for competition.

It was a sign of the true depth of a Canadian team that didn’t have RJ Barrett, Jamal Murray, Lu Dort, Oshae Brissett, Khem Birch or Cory Joseph, all of whom committed to the program until the Olympics. of Paris 2024.

“It’s fun to come back here, especially in front of home fans,” said Olynyk, who made his senior debut in 2010. “You don’t get that opportunity every day. Doing this is fun.

« This group of guys, especially the young ones, I feel like the oldest guy here now. It’s just fun to go up and down with them. They have a lot of talent, a lot of skills, and it’s fun to be there.

Canada is 5-0 in this part of the qualification process and has already secured a place in the next phase.

The men conclude this stage of qualifications on Monday, and their next match will be at the end of August against Venezuela or Argentina.

When the complicated process is finally complete in February 2023, seven FIBA ​​Americas teams will qualify for next year’s World Cup in Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines.


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