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Friday, September 29, 2000

It's time to push back

Canadian basketball team too nice for its own good


 SYDNEY -- Every Olympics, there's always one athlete -- or team -- that defines our nation.

 The Canadian men's basketball squad did it Down Under.

 They were young, scrappy, hard-working. They believed in themselves and their system even though no one else in the world paid them any attention.

 And they stepped up to some of the world's hoops superpowers like Yugoslavia and Australia, and let their play say, "Hey, we're here. Don't forget about us. We're part of this, too."

 That's how most Canadians are. Rarely do we beat our chests, but we still like folks to know we're around.

 The Canadian men's team won their Olympic Pool. They shocked the globe.

 And the hoops world finally acknowledged Canada had arrived.

 KINDA POLITE

 Great. But being Canadian also means we're kinda polite and passive. Sometimes, we're too nice.

 And when hungry France pushed and shoved in a crucial quarter-final match-up at the Sydney Superdome yesterday, the Canadians didn't push back.

 The French were aggressive. They wanted the basketball and weren't afraid to dive across the floor to get it.

 They didn't bow at the altar of NBA star Steve Nash.

 They poked at him, they pried at him. They took turns doing it. They did it all game.

 And it worked. The French grabbed an early 15-point lead, and it proved too much.

 The Canadians gave their trademark dose of 'never-say-die' effort in the second half, but they got dealt back a trademark dose of `too-little-too-late.'

 No medal this time.

 The only thing that went right was Winnipeg's Todd MacCulloch, who scored 23 points in 23 minutes with a bum knee he injured in practice.

 The Big Guy from Shaftesbury High School was the only mismatch Canada had, and coach Jay Triano didn't use him enough.

 The way the Philadelphia 76ers centre was shooting, he should've gotten the ball in the post every single play.

 But the seven-footer quietly said he didn't deserve any more time, and he didn't really think he played a very good game.

 "On this team, you have to do the things that there's no stat column for," said MacCulloch, who had to switch from his No. 11 jersey to No. 3 in the second half because there was blood on it. "That's what got us here. You have to get to a loose ball or take a charge. Tonight wasn't my best game. I just got the easy points on the great passes Steve gave me."

 He was hard on himself. And that's a good thing.

 "It's funny because we hardly get criticism in Canada, everybody's so supportive of us all the time," said Big Mac, "but it was interesting to listen to the French player (guard Makan Dioumassi) say how everyone in his country was down on them, criticizing their coach and the team all the time."

 It fuelled a hunger in the French team.

 It's a hunger Canada didn't have, but better start developing.

 Next time a medal's in sight, they can't be so nice.

 It's time the Canadians start pushing back.