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Team Canada Excites Winnipeg Fans Before FIBA World Cup

Team Canada before a game against Australia a week later.

Fans crowded around the entrance eager to take their seats. In just a few moments, Bell MTS Place would become a sea of red and white, dotted with sections of green. Bright lights, hyped-up fans, and harmonized chants—downtown Winnipeg was the place to be on last Friday. Over 7,000 fans came to watch Team Canada battle Team Nigeria before the home team left for Australia for five more exhibition games in anticipation of the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China. 

Twenty years had passed since Winnipeg last hosted the Men’s Senior National Team, way back in 1999, during the Pan American Games. The teams had played two days earlier at the Mattamy Athletic Centre in Toronto, with Canada winning, 96–87. The Nigerians took this matchup in Manitoba by a final score of 91–80. 

From NBA veterans, such as Cory Joseph, Khem Birch, and Al Farouq-Aminu, to rising stars like Josh Okogie, Jordan Nwora, and Andrew Nembhard, the game featured many recognizable names. That included international players making noise overseas. The Scrubb brothers, Kevin Pangos, Ben Uzoh, and Stanley Okoye are just some notable stars displaying their talents for fans outside North America. 

The game included posterizing dunks, dropped defenders, and tons of blocks. Both teams put on a show for the enthusiastic crowd. The Canadians started off with a 7–0 run, with multiple stops on the defensive end, preventing Nigeria to get on board. 

Florida Gators guard Andrew Nembhard saw plenty of playing time in the second quarter and he did not disappoint. The 19 year showed off his handles and a crafty layup package. Timberwolves rising star Josh Okogie also had tricks of his own. With his efficient scoring and his passing the Nigerian guard silenced the Canadian crowd at times. 

Team Nigeria also had its own 7–0 run in the second quarter, with Chimezie Metu of the Spurs ending the half off with a buzzer-beater three, cutting Canada’s lead down to two. 

Kid Reporter Ayesha Badiola and Team Canada GM Rowan Barrett

Kid Reporter Ayesha Badiola and Team Canada GM Rowan Barrett

Kid Reporter Ayesha Badiola and Team Canada GM Rowan Barrett

In the second half, it became tight and physical. Both teams showed strength on the defensive end, with sneaky steals, tips, denials, and active hands. Kyle Wiltjer, a 6’10” forward for Team Canada, got injured early in the fourth. Canada coach Nick Nurse mentioned that it was a twisted ankle, not a serious injury.  

Nurse received a technical foul for arguing with the officials with seven minutes left in the game. The crowd erupted and one fan from the stands had something to say.

“Don’t you know who he is? This man has a ring, tell 'em Nick!” the young fan exclaimed. 

“I’m sure he’s back there telling them ‘I teed up Nick Nurse.’” Nurse said with a grin. “No I’m just kidding. That’s what refs do—trust me I know. I deserved it.”

Team Canada made a comeback in the fourth with a couple of baskets from Oshae Brissett, a three-pointer from Brady Heslip, and a layup made by late addition Owen Klassen. After that Canada didn’t see the ball go down the hole until the 1:06 mark when captain Cory Joseph hit a jump shot. They saw many scoring opportunities but the ball didn’t exactly land where they would’ve liked.

“I thought at our end we had even better looks than they were getting, and we didn’t hit some,” Nurse said.

Even with the lack of scoring in the second half, there was one memorable dunk that left fans in awe. It was the quick cut to the basket finished off with a two-handed slam by Raptors’ rookie Brissett on the 6’10" Metu.

With 45 seconds left in the fourth, Nigeria inbounded the ball from their end. The Louisville Cardinals’ Jordan Nwora, son of Team Nigeria Coach Alexander Nwora, hit a dagger three, which increased their lead to four. Canada would not score again. 

Nurse credits the Nigerians for their efforts: “I thought they made a lot of tough threes where we were really chasing them and they’d turn and make it.” 

Jordan Nwora put up a game-high 19 points for Nigeria. Josh Okogie dished out six assists while contributing 15 points of his very own. 

The younger of the Scrubb brothers, Phil Scrubb led Team Canada in scoring with 12 points. Cory Joseph stuffed the stat sheet with 10 points, six rebounds, and six assists. 

Despite the loss, Team Canada had the biggest smiles across their faces. Both teams received a standing ovation as they waved and showed appreciation for the crowd as they walked off the court. 

The FIBA World Cup tips off in China on August 31. Nigeria will be playing Russia for their first game while the Canadians meet the Australians for their first match. 

Photo credit: Will Russell/Getty Images (Team Canada lineup in Australia)