NBA’s most valuable player Giannis Antetokounmpo is coming to Victoria

The Greek Freak will land on Blanshard Street.

Greece, featuring the reigning National Basketball Association MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, has been drawn into Canada’s group for the FIBA men’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualifying tournament June 23-28 at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.

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Canada, Greece and China were drawn into Group A and Uruguay, Czech Republic and Turkey into Group B for the Victoria Olympic qualifying tournament. Each team will play the other two teams in its own group. The top two teams in each group will advance to the semifinals. The semifinal winners will meet in the final with the winner qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.

The draw, which took place Wednesday in Switzerland, came amid a growing list of Canadian NBA players who have committed to be on the national team roster for the qualifier in Victoria. R.J. Barrett of the New York Knicks was the latest to confirm Wednesday after Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Nickeil Alexander-Walker of the New Orleans Pelicans did Tuesday. Kelly Olynyk of the Miami Heat, Dillon Brooks of the Memphis Grizzlies, Dwight Powell of the Dallas Mavericks, Khem Birch of the Orlando Magic and Cory Joseph of the Sacramento Kings will also be in Victoria.

“We always knew our players would respond, especially at home,” said Glen Grunwald, president and CEO of Canada Basketball.

“I get tingles when I think about how good our national team can be. You can see it in all the NBA players who have committed. We are going to have a good team. Especially under [Toronto Raptors head coach] Nick Nurse, who is an awesome coach.”

Playing the qualifier at home could be the edge Canada needs to springboard to Tokyo.

“Hosting the tournament in Victoria [instead of having to go overseas for the qualifier] gives us a better chance of getting to the Tokyo Olympics,” said Grunwald.

“But the competition is going to be tough and very good. The qualifier out of this group is going to be a medal contender in Tokyo. So home-court advantage can’t be overstated. ”

Grunwald thanked the Victoria organizing committee, chaired by University of Victoria athletic director Clint Hamilton, for putting this together.

“It was nothing short of amazing,” said Grunwald, of how Victoria out-maneuvered larger centres such as Toronto and Vancouver.

“There was a lot of interest [in hosting] across the country. It was a tough deal to put together in such a short time frame and which included a significant financial investment.”

Sources say it includes a $3-million commitment required by FIBA, that even potential organizers in Toronto and Vancouver had trouble coming up with, but which has been fronted by an unnamed Island businessman.

The Victoria tournament will be one of four FIBA Olympic qualifiers next year with the others in Belgrade, Serbia; Split Croatia; and Kaunas, Lithuania. The four tournament winners will join the top-seven teams from the 2019 FIBA World Cup last summer, and host Japan, in the 12-team 2020 Tokyo Olympic men’s basketball tournament.

Canada Basketball said ticket information and tip-off times for the Victoria qualifier will be announced soon.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

Twitter.com/tc_vicsports

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