SEARCH 2000 Games

Sunday, July 16, 2000

Triano's stand brave, unique

  Canadian men's basketball coach Jay Triano has made a very difficult, possibly dangerous, yet gutsy call in recent days, one that flies in the face of the prevailing winds in sport today.

 The decision to stand by his principles and his team and require Los Angeles Lakers forward Rick Fox to take part in far more than a token amount of Canada's pre-Olympic training camp, ultimately has meant Fox has had to politely decline to play for Canada this September in Sydney.


 What Triano has said -- and he appears about to make the same statement to Charlotte draftee Jamaal Magloire -- is that the chemistry and integrity of his current roster matters more than the not insignificant skills and presence Fox would bring to the Canadian men's team.

 In this sporting day and age where the inmates run the asylum -- where players are all-powerful -- the decision is all the more unique and brave. It speaks to the kind of person Triano is.

 The contrast to the way business is done today both in the NBA and internationally is fairly startling.

 Take a look at the news in recent days. NBA teams have been falling over themselves to recruit free agents. The limits of crass, naked, excess and pandering apparently do not exist. We've had teams buying entire first class sections of airplanes for the comfort of the player they are interested in recruiting, as if one seat is not enough. We've had teams blocking off entire sections of theme parks for said player's unfettered amusement. We've had mascots and cheerleaders greet players at airports, not to mention opportunities to throw out the first pitch at baseball games -- all as if the grotesque, multi-million dollar salaries the recruits stand to make are not enough. It is butt-kissing taken to another level.

 Triano has taken the opposite approach. He has not drawn his line in the sand with anger or with inflexibility, but he has drawn one nevertheless. He has decided that no single player, no matter how important, is bigger than the overall team and what it is trying to accomplish.

 He has implicitly said that the sacrifices of the current players, going back to last summer's success at the Olympic qualifying tournament, matter more than the skills of one or two players.

 The decision might cost Canada games and a medal hope in Sydney. Without question, Fox would improve the roster.

 Of course, Triano's decision might win games, too. Hustle and heart can compensate for youth and a lack of depth, and it's impossible to measure how much ill-will will be avoided by deciding to stand pat.

 But if the decision is something of a gamble, it also is a fair, and perhaps moral, stand.

 "There's no guarantee that (Canada) is better with (Fox and Magloire)," Raptors general manager Glen Grunwald said yesterday at the Air Canada Centre during Canada's 79-64 victory over Brazil in the second game of a three-game exhibition series.

 Grunwald and the Raptors, it should be noted, elected not to take part in the recruiting excesses of Orlando and Chicago with regard to free agent Tracy McGrady.

 "Jay had success last year with a team that played unselfishly and with enthusiasm. That's a formula that can have success. Look at this team: There's a real team attitude. (Dallas Mavericks guard) Steve Nash is a pro and is making sacrifices for the sake of the team.

 "I like watching it."

 International basketball is littered with stories of teams who bent over backward for the sake of one or two special players, parachuting them in at the last minute. Stars can help, but they also can be a cancer, destroying the sense of team unity, alienating those who must sit out to make way.

 Not that Fox is that kind of player. He showed in 1994, when he was the only NBA player on Canada's roster for the world championships, he wasn't above the rest of his teammates.


 But take a look at the way the Croatian men's team turned into a cesspool of jealousy during the 1996 Olympics, all because too many stars wanted too much.

 This situation isn't an exact parallel, but there is a similar theme.

 "Jay has tried to make the best decision for the team," Nash said. "He realized there is a fine line between the most talented team and a team that is well prepared and together."

 It's a unique, even a refreshing, stand.

 But Triano has taken his stand.