By: Holly MacKenzie

TORONTO, Ont. (February 24, 2020) – The Canadian Senior Men’s National Team will take the court in Santo Domingo on Monday night to face host team Dominican Republic. 

The teams will be playing one another for the second time in four days in the group phase of the FIBA AmeriCup 2021 Qualifiers. Canada notched an 89-72 victory against the Dominican Republic on Friday in Oshawa, Ontario.  Fans can catch all the action streaming live at 7:00 PM ET on DAZN.

Andrew Nicholoson led the way in Friday's victory with 16 points, while Phil Scrubb added 14 and Kaza Kajami-Keane scored 12 points to go with a game-high eight assists. 

Herbert was especially pleased with Nicholson’s efforts because of how quickly he has adapted to his role within the team.

“We were trying to figure out how to use his best talents at the four and the five [position],” Herbert said. “He’s trying to learn four positions. Not easy when you’ve only got four days of practice.”

Nicholson joined Team Canada from home where he had been waiting after coronavirus halted play in the Chinese Basketball Association where he has spent the past three years playing.

“I was just [at home] working out,” he said. “We’re going to have to go back and resume our season [in China]. Doing this helps me stay in shape, stay ready for when I have to go back.”

While Nicholson was home waiting to hear when he will return to play, Kajami-Keane is playing in Germany while Scrubb has been in Spain. A break in the schedule has allowed players to leave their club teams overseas to play for their countries in the FIBA Continental Cup Qualifiers. Following Monday’s game in the Dominican Republic, players will return to their club teams and league play will resume. The next group phase for AmeriCup 2021 Qualifiers won’t take place until the end of November.

With the NBA in action, Team Canada head coach Nick Nurse has handed over head coaching duties to Gordie Herbert for these Qualifier windows. This doesn’t mean he hasn’t been following the team’s progress, though. While Canada’s victory on Friday took place during the same time that Nurse was coaching the Toronto Raptors in a win against the Phoenix Suns, Nurse has been keeping tabs on the Senior Men’s Team and had game tape from Friday’s game. Nurse said he was able to spend a day with the team while they practiced in Oshawa, talking with players as well as coaching staff in advance of the weekend games. 

The team showed its depth in Friday’s victory with 11 players getting into the game and 10 getting onto the scoreboard. After the game, players were appreciative to the Canadian fans on hand for their support, but no one was more excited about the location than Kajami-Keane. 

The Ajax native was thrilled to have the opportunity to play in front of family and friends at the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center at Ontario Tech University and Durham College in Oshawa, Ontario. Getting to spend the week at home while the team prepared for the two games was an added bonus.

“It was amazing,” Kajami-Keane said. “That was the first time my grandmother has ever seen me play basketball and I’m 26 years old. I try to take advantage of these things. When they told me [the game] was in Durham, I was about to be in tears. I got to go home and see my parents every day. I had to help them paint the house a little bit, just trying to help out as much as I can at home.”

Bouncing between basketball practices and helping his parents around the house isn’t at all surprising to those who know Kajami-Keane. One of the things that makes him such a great teammate is his willingness to do whatever is needed to help the team.

After Friday’s game, Kajami-Keane was asked for the advice he would pass along to young Canadian players. He didn’t need to hesitate in his response.

“You’ve got to star in your role,” he said. “This past summer [with Canada Basketball] I was the 12th guy, the 13th guy [in the rotation]. That was my role and I owned it. I cheered as loud as I could, I waved the towels, I brought the waters. That was the role I had. In this role [this week] it's to defend, find open guys and score a little bit. Every time you get an opportunity to play in a team, star in your role and be the best player you can be.”

This kind of selflessness is part of why Friday's victory was a full-team effort.

Now on the road in Santo Domingo, Herbert wants the team to be ready to receive Dominican Republic’s best effort at home.

“We’ve got to build off how we played in the second half [on Friday],” he said. “Obviously, it’s going to be tougher down there. We’re going to have to win battles.” 

For Nicholson, the mindset for Monday’s game is simple.

“Have road toughness, continue to trust each other and stay together,” he said. “We’re a good ball team so we have to go over there and ball.”