SHANGHAI — Andrew Nembhard’s summer basketball highlight actually happened before Canada’s team touched down in China for the FIBA World Cup.
Quarterbacking Canada’s second unit, the 19-year-old from Aurora, Ont., starred in Canada’s 90-70 upset of Australia in an exhibition game in Melbourne about two weeks before the World Cup tipped off.
With the arrival of Sacramento Kings guard Cory Joseph in China, Nembhard has seen limited minutes at the World Cup. But he’s already shown that his future with Canada’s team is bright.
“He’s obviously shown us a lot of talent, right?” said coach Nick Nurse. “He’s got a big athletic body, he’s kind of got this herky-jerky offensive game which is hard to guard, he can shake his guy and get into the paint, he’s a creator, which in this game is really important, because he can get in there and fire it out to people for shots, and it fits kind of the way we want to play.
“It’s good to get him some experience, it really was, because I think he’s certainly a guy who could be a future (star) for this team.”
The six-foot-five guard had 12 points, 10 rebounds and four assists against Australia, who are through to the quarter-finals at the World Cup. Perhaps most impressive though was the young player’s poise against the Aussies’ NBA guards Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova and Patty Mills.
“Yes, it was a good game for me,” Nembhard said.
A boost to his confidence?
“It was pretty high before that but it can only help to make me more comfortable when I’m playing,” Nembhard said.
The Canadians clobbered Jordan 126-71 on Saturday, allowing coach Nick Nurse to empty his bench. Nembhard played 17 minutes, dishing out five assists.
The crafty guard was a two-sport athlete growing up. He played as a centre-midfielder for Toronto FC’s academy team when he decided to quit soccer around the ninth grade to focus more on basketball. He played high school basketball alongside RJ Barrett — this year’s No. 3 NBA draft pick — at Florida’s Montverde Academy where they captured the U.S. high school title.
Nembhard opted not to enter the 2019 NBA draft and will return to the Florida Gators for his sophomore season. This summer’s experience, he said, sets him up nicely for the NCAA season.
“Good experience for me being a young guy and getting to learn from older guys on the team,” he said. “I felt good out there (with Canada’s senior men’s team). I felt comfortable. I felt I belonged. The physicality is obviously up to another level. The speed is faster but I felt very comfortable out there and the guys helped me a lot.”
Nembhard’s opportunity to play for Canada this summer came partly because of the mass withdrawal of NBA players. Denver’s Jamal Murray and Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are two guards who likely would have bumped Nembhard from the roster.
Canada’s missing NBA players have dominated the team’s World Cup storyline. Originally projected as a medal hopeful in China, the team didn’t advance out of the preliminary round after losses to Australia and Lithuania. Instead, they’ll play Germany on Monday in the classification round that determines 17th through 32nd place.
They’re hoping for a berth in a second-chance Olympic qualifying tournament next June.
The Canadians held their final practice of the summer Sunday at Shanghai Oriental Sports Center, and the players were all smiles and laughs as they wrapped up with an animated shooting game. First team to 31 points exactly was the winner.
Nembhard has enjoyed his six weeks playing for Nurse.
“Obviously he knows a lot and is creative at what he is doing,” he said of the Toronto Raptors head coach. “It’s just great for me to experience something that I want to do later in my future (play in the NBA).”
He’s also appreciated the guidance from his veteran teammates.
“Honestly it’s everybody — Brady (Heslip), Cory (Joseph), Kaza (Kajami-Keane), Mel (Melvin Ejim), Kevin (Pangos) — they all helped me, talked to me.”
The Canadians head into Monday’s finale with two consecutive wins under their belt: 82-60 versus Senegal and their rout of Jordan. Canada hasn’t won three consecutive World Cup games since a five-game winning streak that straddled the 1982 and ’86 tournaments.
Canada has lost 20 consecutive World Cup games versus European teams, their last win coming against the Netherlands in 1986.
Germany is led by Oklahoma City guard Dennis Schroder, who was the assists leader (9.5 per game) through the first four World Cup games.
“Certainly he’s a focal point, super quickness and super speed that we’ve got to worry about,” Nurse said. “We’ll have to have multiple coverages ready for him and multiple defenders ready for him, like with any great player really.”