Few have seen Canada's rise to basketball relevancy the way Dan Shulman has. The prominent ESPN broadcaster was in town last week to call hoops at the Pan Am Games. The Toronto native got to see first-hand the rising young talent in the nation, calling the men win a silver medal, Canada's first Pan Am medal in men's basketball, and also saw the women get crowned with gold, their best podium finish ever at the tournament. While writing about and covering the multi-sport event, I got the chance to catch up and talk basketball with Shulman.
Here are his thoughts on everything that happened last week, right before the tip-off of Saturday's gold medal finale.
Alykhan: It's really been the rise of Jamal Murray that's been the big story here. What have you seen from Murray and what has impressed you the most?
Dan: Well, it's amazing that he's only 18, I mean you know that he's an extraordinarily talented guy, but to step up to this level to play international players, older players; I knew he'd be great, I didn't know he'd be this great this soon. I thought it might take him a year or two to get to this level, but, the talent is one thing, the poise and the toughness is just as impressive, and Steve Nash said it best after the game against the United States, "he's a special, special kid," and he really is. He's a really unique talent, and they're not here without Jamal Murray right now.
A: We've seen the past few years, Anthony Bennett go number one overall, Andrew Wiggins go number one overall, the draft rankings today have Jamal Murray ranked as high as sixth. It's early, but do you see another high draft pick from Canada in Jamal Murray?
Dan: It's very, very early, he hasn't played a day in college yet. To be honest with you, I never look at mock drafts or anything, I want to see how they look on the court, but my opinion is he's got lottery pick talent, there's no question about it. How that plays out in his year in college and who's coming from overseas that I'm not aware of, that I don't know about, but if he's healthy, and plays the way I think he can play, I definitely think he's a lottery pick.
A: We know Cory Joseph is likely going to be the lead guard going into Mexico City, Tyler Ennis' name has been talked about as well, could you potentially see Jamal Murray as one of those guys who could go to Mexico?
Dan: Definitely. Ennis is hurt [Update: Ennis officially ruled out for the FIBA Americas with a torn labrum], so I don't think he's going to be there. To me Joseph is the starter, and I love Junior Cadougan and I love Kevin Pangos, but I think Jamal Murray needs to be on the team. Here in this tournament, we've had Cadougan and Murray both playing, so you can compare them a little bit. Junior is tough and solid and great defensively. Murray will make some mistakes, some turnovers when he's 18, but Murray's high end, his ceiling is so high. I definitely think Murray will be on the team, I always like three point guards on the team, whether the third one is Cadougan or Pangos remains to be seen.
A: We've really seen - in limited minutes - some things from Daniel Mullings (Toronto) as well as Dillon Brooks (Mississauga), how have they impressed you as well throughout this tournament?
Dan: I think Brooks has only played a few minutes here and there, but he's handled himself fine. Mullings to me has really been impressive, he's a little bit older than Brooks, the energy, the diving for the loose balls, the offensive rebounds. He's not the star of the team, he's not trying to be the star of the team, he's just trying to help in any way that he can and I think Mullings has a bright future. I don't know if - everybody that can play, does play - there's room for him in Mexico, but I think he's going to be a big part of this program.
A: As a guy who's obviously very big on the college basketball scene, where do you see Murray fitting in next year at Kentucky?
Dan: I haven't seen the other incoming freshman. They (UK) have a very good guard in Tyler Ulis, who's a very different kind of player than Jamal Murray. Ulis is five-foot-eight, crazy quick and all that. I think Jamal Murray will play at the point sometimes, I think he'll play the two sometimes with Ulis, but Jamal Murray is going to play. Kentucky to my knowledge is not going to be ten deep like they were last year, it's not like they're going to have the platoon system, I think Jamal Murray plays. I think he's a starter, I think he's a star, I think he's a potential All-American and a potential lottery pick.
A: Finally, you're of course, a fellow Canadian. Where do you rank what you've seen from Canada basketball the last couple of years, and the rise that we've seen from both the men, as well as the women's side?
Dan: I'm much more familiar with the men, so I'll confine my answer to that, although what the women did here in beating the United States was fantastic. I think this is huge. The last time I can remember this much excitement is when they were in Sidney in 2000. They finished seventh, but they were 5-1 and lost in the quarter-finals [Note: They would go on to win their seventh place game over Russia]. This tournament doesn't get them anywhere in terms of FIBA or the Olympics but I think it's huge. I think we all know that there's way more talent than there used to be, but to me just important is the culture that Jay Triano, Rowan Barrett and Steve Nash are establishing. Guys want to play for their country, you don't have to beg them to play anymore. All you had to do was be here when they beat the United States [101-98 in an overtime thriller]. You see games getting picked up on T.V., lead stories in the newspaper, Twitter talk, whatever the case may be. This is exciting and this is building. I'm hoping that we may look back in ten years and say last night - when they beat the United States - is the night they began this. I don't know, but I'm hoping that's the case.
The FIBA Americas will take place beginning August 31st in Mexico City, Mexico and will serve as a qualifier for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.