Canadian basketball reinforcements make huge sacrifices to answer the call


SHANGHAI, China —  Not everyone, much as it might seem, was trying to get out of the opportunity to come to China and represent Canada at this FIBA World Cup.

There are 12 players and countless staff members all here of their own accord and eager to don the uniform and the Canadian colours.

The final two additions to the roster went even a little further than their teammates to answer the call.

Owen Klassen, the 6-foot-10 centre and product of the fine program at Acadia, got his call the day after he landed in Belgium where he was to begin training camp as a first year member on that roster with Antwerp.

“Just before the weekend I had flown to Belgium,” Klassen, 27, said following Canada’s win over Senegal. “I had landed and was going through the entrance process with my new team. I did one practice, got the call and left the next day.

“So I went Toronto to Belgium, Belgium to Toronto in three days,” Klassen said.

He got the call when it became apparent Canada was going to be rather shy in big bodies. Chris Boucher, who spent a lot of time on the Raptors’ bench this past championship season and was the G-League MVP, was in camp but did not wind up sticking around.

That’s when the call to Klassen went out.

Conor Morgan’s story is even more rushed and hectic.

Morgan plays in Spain’s ACB League, the accepted second best basketball league in the world behind the NBA and had been training with his team Divina Seguros Joventut since Aug 14.

Morgan, 25, got the call when Oshae Brissett, who had really been turning heads during the Australia tune-up games, suffered a strange knee injury. The decision to send him home was made and the call went out to Morgan, a 6-foot-9, 225-pound UBC product who has been playing in Spain and New Zealand before that.

Conor Morgan of Canada shoots the ball against Senegal during the FIBA World Cup at Dongguan Basketball Center in Dongguan, China, on Sept. 5, 2019.

Zhizhao Wu /

Getty Images

“I got here the day before the Australia game, straight to China from Barcelona,” Morgan said. “It was pretty crazy actually.”

The first and biggest hurdle was getting himself a Chinese visa on short notice which is no easy task. It made the journey to China a little circuitous.

“My travel here was tough,” Morgan said in a huge understatement. “I had to go from Barcelona to Madrid for a night. Then Madrid to Istanbul and then I had to run to the plane in Istanbul and I just made it so it was quite the commute.”

Morgan arrived in Dongguan where the team played the first round at 7 p.m. Saturday night. Jet lagged, he immediately went to bed and slept until 2 a.m. when he got up and hit the books learning Nick Nurse’s offensive and defensive sets.

“I was in great shape coming in (having spent 21/2 weeks in camp already) but it’s just learning the whole offence,” Morgan said. “I already knew the guys which was good but the offence and defensive schemes is just the hardest part.”

The point though is both men made huge sacrifices and overcame multiple hurdles to represent Canada.

Their respective club teams also had to be on board. Morgan had no issues in that regard. Spanish league teams are well known for bending over backwards to accommodate world competition.

“In Europe they are very, very loyal to their countries which is great because I am as well,” Morgan said. “And they knew I wanted to represent Canada if I had the chance. They really like this. They like all the best players playing for Spain and they like all the best players trying to play for Canada.”

Klassen, because he had just arrived and was new to the team, didn’t get the same fuzzy feeling from his club when he mentioned leaving but eventually they relented.

“Initially the response wasn’t great from them, but the GM and the coach are great guys and they both played internationally with Belgium, so they understand the opportunity and they know this is something I’ve been working toward for a long time,” Klassen said. “I’ve been involved with the national team and to not be able to come to this would have been really disappointing to me.”

Regardless who was manning Canada’s bench or what the team’s prospects were, you get the distinct impression this was a real no-brainer for both players.

Representing their country, which both have done though not at the World Cup level until now is that important to them. They also see the ancillary positives.

“The level of coaching is amazing,” Klassen said. “These guys are the top coaches in various leagues and Nick Nurse, obviously you could say he’s the best coach in the world right now if you want to, but you learn a lot from them and the competition is obviously at a really high level and that gets you better prepared than anything.”

No, not everyone was trying to avoid this tournament.