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Thompson’s leadership, consistency would be valuable for Canada – Sportsnet.ca

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It’s never pretty with Tristan Thompson but the veteran Canadian big man with the movie star looks (yes, he’s been mistaken for Michael B. Jordan) and the celebrity romantic relationships has never bothered with that.

In his ninth season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Thompson has won a championship, played in three other NBA Finals and earned nearly $100 million and counting but his ”see ball, get ball” formula has never wavered.

“It’s just my DNA,” Thompson told Sportsnet in a near empty visitor’s locker room at Scotiabank Arena after his Cavaliers were thumped by his hometown Toronto Raptors 133-113 as the Cavs fell to 6-21 on the season.

Thompson was Thompson, though, as he put up 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds and dished three assists in his 33 minutes.

“At the end of the day I’m the leader of this team, it’s on me to punch the clock with these young guys and these new guys,” he says. “I have to set the tone with my energy and come in ready to play and not just on the court but off the floor, holding myself to a higher standard because they’re watching everything I do. I was lucky to break in with vets who did it the right way so it’s up to me to pay it forward.”

Over his career, Thompson has changed his free-throw shooting from left-handed to right-handed and worked some more nuanced skills into his tool box while matching a high basketball IQ with a world-class motor, but making his game glamourous or aesthetically appealing has never been on the agenda.

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So the game might be an ungainly collection of floaters and last-man-standing put-backs, but the most beautiful thing of all is you always know what you’re going to get from the Brampton, Ont., native: a battle to the end for every rebound, speed in transition and the ability and willingness to switch out and guard on the perimeter while hustling back to the paint to protect the rim and collect the scraps.

“He’s one of those guys that has an incredible motor,” says Cavs teammate Larry Nance Jr. “He doesn’t know any better. Whether it’s practice, whether it’s a game, whether it’s pick-up, he just plays hard as hell. He doesn’t know any better. It’s impressive to see but it’s not even a decision to make, it’s who he is.

Playing against him?

“It’s a total pain in the ass to be honest with you,” says Nance Jr., having matched up with Thompson in practice and pick-up games. “But that’s just who he is, and he’s made a hell of a career out of it. I wish more people had that.”

This season with the Cavaliers will provide the ultimate test and Thompson will pass it. Two years ago, Cleveland swept the Raptors for the second straight year and played in their fourth straight NBA Finals. But when LeBron James left for the Los Angeles Lakers, the Cavaliers had no choice but to rebuild, and they showed why it’s a project with no end in sight. They allowed the Raptors to shoot 58.4 per cent from the floor – not all that unusual for a team that came into the game ranked 28th in the NBA in defensive efficiency.

But Thompson still put in work. He doggedly wrestled with Marc Gasol in the paint, giving up four inches and 30 pounds and then gave the quicker and more skilled Pascal Siakam a challenge out to the three-point line.

In good times and bad, Thompson has proven reliable. From that perspective, he’s a coach’s dream.

“He has been a Cav his entire life and he has a lot of pride so he’s working really hard to lead this young team and do the best he can,” says Cleveland head coach John Beilein, an NBA rookie at age 66 after a storied NCAA coaching career.

When unnamed Cavs were complaining recently about some of their new coach’s methods, it was Thompson who spoke up in support and quelled the mini-uprising.

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“He’s been a warrior. You watch him tonight, he’ll go after virtually every rebound every single time with everything he’s got.

“So it’s a wrestling match at one end, a wrestling match at the other end and by the way he has to sprint. And he’s usually going to the basket so he’s got further than everyone else to run. He’s been a warrior on so many games and has really helped us with the successes we’ve had and some of the tough losses we’ve had we wouldn’t be in it without him.”

A pending free agent Thompson’s contract status might preclude him from playing for Canada at the Olympic Qualifying tournament in Victoria, B.C., in June although if they make it through, the Olympics in Japan might be in play. Raptors and Canadian national team head coach Nick Nurse would love to have him.

“We hope he plays,” said Nurse, who spoke with Thompson during his pre-game warm-up. “He’s one of the best rebounding bigs in the world. We’re playing on the world stage. He’d look good on our team.”

He’d look good on a lot of teams. In the short term, the ultimate reward for Thompson might be a ticket out of Cleveland, his only NBA home, although there is talk that they should re-sign him as a pillar in their rebuild. In his last year of his five-year, $80-million contract, Thompson is the kind of veteran playoff-bound teams would love to add. Could his hometown Raptors use his blend of grit, size and smarts?

Absolutely, although price is always a big part of the equation. The Cavs may be holding out for a first-round pick for Thompson, but there are doubts they’ll get one for a role-playing rental.

Regardless, Thompson will be sought after because he brings certainty.

As one NBA executive put it when assessing the attractiveness of Thompson to a contender between now and the Feb. 6th NBA trade deadline: “You know what you’re getting.”

His teammates take note and try to follow his example. There aren’t many NBA players who don’t find a way to bring it when things are rolling and a long playoff run is in sight. But when things go south?

If there is a podcasting odd couple, this might be it. Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis don’t agree on much, but you’ll agree this is the best Toronto Raptors podcast going.

Different story.

“We’re all very competitive. You don’t get to this point by losing,” said Nance Jr., who is in his third season playing alongside Thompson. “But now that you’re here, struggling, it is easy to kind of drop your head and get frustrated with what’s going on.”

But broke in with a losing Cavs team by establishing himself as one of the most energetic bigs in the NBA; Thompson earned the trust of LeBron James in Cleveland’s runs to the finals by being one of the league’s most energetic bigs and he hasn’t shifted down now that the Cavaliers are lottery bound again.

“You do it on a championship team, you do it in the playoffs, that stuff is noticed more,” he says. “But whether you’re in the playoffs or not, you have to be true to yourself. For me, what I bring to the table is play hard every night and I can’t waver regardless of what the situation is.”

Along the way he’s learned some tricks. The rookies might be drenching their waffles in maple syrup, but if they’re paying attention, they’ll notice Thompson helping himself to avocado spread on whole grain toast.

He’s the first one at the practice facility for treatment and one of the last to get more treatment after, the better to keep the motor running smoothly.

Thompson’s approach adds up. He’s one of three players to average six offensive rebounds per 100 possessions since he broke into the league; his 1,993 offensive rebounds is third in the NBA over the same period and his 17.4 total rebounding percentage is eighth among players with at least 500 games.

Thompson’s game has never been pretty and he’s never worried about making it so. The Michael B. Jordan comparisons will have to do.

“Me and Mike are cool. I know him. People always mistake us,” says Thompson.

But his consistency and commitment to his role just might earn him an elegant exit from Cleveland by the trade deadline.

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Penny Oleksiak back to lead Canada in Tokyo pool

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Penny Oleksiak, the first Canadian to win four medals at a Summer Olympics, will lead a Canadian swimming team eager to build on their efforts in Rio de Janeiro at next month’s Tokyo Games.

Swimming Canada unveiled a 26-member squad (16 women, 10 men) on Thursday that is a mix of experience and youth that officials hope is capable of improving on the six medals won in Rio, the country’s best haul in the pool since the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

“I think the mix of veteran leaders and new faces is awesome,” said Kylie Masse, a bronze medallist in the 100 metres backstroke in Rio and one of 10 returning Olympians. “That’s kind of how sport works, there are always older and younger athletes, and it’s a great dynamic to have.”

Leading the charge at the 2016 Rio Games was Oleksiak, who became Canada’s youngest Olympic champion winning gold in the 100m freestyle as a 16-year-old, while also grabbing silver in the 100m butterfly and two relay bronze.

The stage is set for a new star to emerge in Tokyo in 14-year-old Summer McIntosh, who edged Oleksiak in the 200m freestyle at the trials and breezed to victory in the 800m free.

At the other end of the experience and age spectrum is 37-year-old Brent Hayden, who came out of retirement to earn a spot on his fourth Olympic team, becoming the oldest Canadian Olympic swimmer in history.

Bronze medallist in the 100m freestyle at the 2012 London Olympics, Hayden clinched his spot with a win in the 50m freestyle at the Canadian trials that wrapped up on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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Sinclair to lead Canadian women’s team in her fourth Olympics

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Christine Sinclair, the all-time international goal-scoring record holder, was named to her fourth Olympic squad on Wednesday and will headline a Canadian roster at the Tokyo Games that features a mix of veterans and youth.

Led by Sinclair, whose 186 goals for her country are the most by a female or male soccer player worldwide, Canada won medals at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and was the only nation to make the podium in both competitions.

“I am looking forward to doing whatever I can to help take this team back to the podium and make history again,” said Canadian captain Sinclair. “Our team is in a good spot, we are excited, we are hungry and we are ready to go.”

The 18-player roster features 12 members of the squad that competed at the 2016 Rio Games while a quintet including Vanessa Gilles, Jayde Riviere, Julia Grosso, Adriana Leon, and Evelyne Viens will be making their Olympic debuts.

Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan travelled to Rio in 2016 as an alternate.

Canada will kick off their Tokyo 2020 journey when they face Japan on July 21 and continue Group E play against Chile on July 24 and Britain on July 27.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond)

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Which of the Canadians Picked in the 2021 NFL Draft Will Thrive This Season?

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It was a good NFL Draft for Canadian players in 2021.

Some four stars from north of the border were selected by NFL franchises in the free agency pick ‘em, and that is tied as the highest number of Canadians drafted in the 85-year history of the event.

Of course, the hope is that these young talents are more than just filler and roster depth, but can any of the quartet make the breakthrough into the big time?

Here’s a look at which of the NFL’s newest Canadian additions can shine in 2021/22.

Jevon Holland

The defensive back was the number 36 pick in the Draft by the Miami Dolphins, who beat off a number of rivals in the hunt for the Coquitlam native.

A versatile defender, Holland is a former Jim Thorpe Award semi-finalist thanks to his exploits in the NCAA back in 2019 with the University of Oregon.

He sat out the 2020 campaign, but representatives from dozens of NFL teams were in town to watch Holland go through his paces at the Oregon Pro Day.

The 21-year-old is following in the footsteps of his father Robert, who turned out for the Detroit Lions, and he is expected to force his way into the starting line-up at the Dolphins. And, who knows, maybe Holland could go all the way in his first season, with Miami priced at +2500 in the Super Bowl 2022 American football odds.

Benjamin St-Juste

When you’re six foot three, 205 pounds and still able to run 40 yards in 4.51 seconds, it goes without saying that you have the physical credentials to succeed in the NFL.

Benjamin St-Juste is the man that can, and he will bolster the roster at a Washington Football Team that will be looking to improve upon their playoff showing in 2020.

The 23-year-old may only have been a third-round pick, but he comes with a burgeoning reputation thanks to a successful time at the University of Minnesota. An All-Big Ten special mention in 2019, more than 50 NFL recruitment personnel attended the college’s pro day – largely to catch a glimpse of St-Juste going through his paces.

Both Brian Gutekunst and Jon Robinson made the trip but, in the end, it was Washington who snapped up the powerhouse from the Draft.

Chuba Hubbard

The third Canadian to be drafted in 2021 was Chuba Hubbard, who became the first Canadian running back to be selected from the Draft in 25 years.

It’s the Carolina Panthers who have taken a chance on the 22-year-old and with his credentials, you can see why. Hubbard finished eighth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy in 2019 after a stellar campaign – he served up 2,094 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, an NCAA best. He was named the Big 12 Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

While running backs are not the hottest of properties in the Draft, Hubbard provably has the talent to cross into the end zone with regularity – the Panthers might just have got their hands on an unheralded gem here.

With these three Canadians taking the step up to the NFL, the future of the sport north of the border looks in safe hands.

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