The Canadian men's wheelchair basketball team will be out to defend their gold medal at the Rio Paralympics. Their first round-robin game at the 12-nation tournament is Thursday against No. 4 Spain. Here are five things to know about the Canadian team:
Canada captured its third gold in four Paralympics in 2012, but much has changed since then for the program, including half of its 12-man roster. After London, the majority of the veterans retired, leaving six players to make their Paralympic debut at Rio. Veterans Adam Lancia and David Eng, who was named Canada's flag-bearer on Tuesday, will be expected to carry much of the offensive workload while rookie Nik Goncin could be a key contributor off the bench. Canada has also slipped out of the top-16 world rankings.
Canada is in Group A along with Spain, No. 3 Turkey, No. 9 Japan, No. 15 Netherlands and reigning world champion Australia. The No. 1 Aussies and Canada have a deep history at the Paralympics, having met in each of the past three finals, with Canada taking gold in 2004 and 2012 and Australia winning it all in 2008. From Group B, the second-ranked Americans and No. 7 Britain could be Canada's stiffest competition in crossover play. No. 8 Iran, No. 11 Germany, No. 16 Algeria and unranked Brazil round out the second group.
Steve Bialowas will be serving as head coach in his first Games after spending time in other numerous roles for Wheelchair Basketball Canada since 2001. Bialowas, from Richmond Hill, Ont., took over for Jerry Tonello in May of 2015 after the long-time coach stepped away because of a brain tumour. The Canadian squad went on to earn silver at last summer's Parapan Am Games under Bialowas and the team dedicated the tournament to Tonello, who died in January.
Repeating as champions or reaching the podium for a fifth straight Games will be a challenge for Canada because of its inexperience. The Canadian squad went into rebuild mode after London and missed out on qualifying for the 2014 world championships, which dropped them out of the top-16 just two years after Paralympic gold. It was the first time the Canadians failed to appear at a world championship since its inception in 1975. Canada eventually qualifed for Rio with its second-place finish at the 2015 Parapan Ams.
This could be the last Games for some of Canada's veterans. Lancia, 36, who will be playing in his fourth Games, will no longer have his main focus on training as he will be taking on the head coaching position with the University of Alabama's women's team in the fall. Eng, also entering his fourth Games, will be 43 in 2020, while Abdi Dini, 35, has his sights set on returning to school to complete his education.