Team Canada is one win closer to qualifying for the 2021 AmeriCup after an 89-72 win over the Dominican Republic – in a game played Friday night on the Durham College-Ontario Tech campus.
The win comes after a whirlwind 26-hours which saw the game relocated to the Campus Recreation and Wellness Centre (CRWC) from the Tribute Communities Centre in downtown Oshawa due to “unforeseen technical circumstances.”
Fans filled the CRWC to capacity (some reports pegging the crowd at 2,500) loudly supporting both teams going back and forth with chants for their nations – but one fan in particular was the most important to Canadian guard Kajami-Keane.
“That’s the first time my grandmother has ever seen me play basketball in my life and I’m 26 years old,” said Kajami-Keane, who is from Ajax. “When they told me (the game) was in Durham, I was about to be in tears.”
Kajami-Keane and MiKyle McIntosh from Pickering lifted the Canadian team in the second half with standout performances.
Kajami-Keane scored 12 points and added eight assists and McIntosh finished with nine points, eight of them in the second half, and added five assists.
“They’re both really tough kids,” said head coach Gordie Herbert. “MiKyle hit some big shots, made some big plays.”
Andrew Nicholson, who was a late addition to the Canadian team after the Chinese Basketball Association suspended its season due to the coronavirus, also starred in his return to the national team.
The 6-foot-9 forward, who has played in the NBA with Orlando, Washington and Brooklyn, led all scorers with 16 points and seven rebounds.
“We just found our rhythm,” said Nicholson. “We had a good few days of practice and continued to stay the course.”
The Canadians started slowly, going into halftime down 40-35, but came out with a renewed energy on offence and put the game away behind three monster slam dunks from Nicholson.
“To be honest with you he’s one of the best offensive players I’ve ever been around,” said Kajami-Keane. “To see something like that, to have that on our team, to work with it for the next week and a half, I cherish it. When you go back overseas you won’t get Andrew Nicholson every time.”
The Canadian team is on the move as they head to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic Monday for the second game of the home-and-home series.
Canada has a chance to all but stamp their ticket to the 2021 AmeriCup should they win a second game over the Dominicans, who are projected to be Canada’s biggest test within the group phase of qualifiers.
“We have to build off how we played in the second half,” said Herbert. “Learn from the first half, build off the second. It’s going to be tougher down there. It might be an ugly game, but we’re going to have win battles.”