Samuel Dalembert Welcomed To Team Canada

By Doug Smith
Updated: August 10, 2007

TORONTO — Every new Canadian brings a set of skills with them when they gain citizenship but it’s not too often those skills revolve around shot-blocking, rebounding and the ability to run a basketball floor like a 7-foot gazelle.

Samuel Dalembert, sworn in as a Canadian Thursday morning and officially a member of the national men’s basketball team at practice Thursday night, hopes to parlay those skills into a key role for a program that sorely needs some success.

The 26-year-old Haitian-born, Montreal-bred centre who spent two years of high school, two years of college and five years as a NBAer in the United States, represents a key addition to the national team that begins the qualification process for the 2008 Beijing Olympics later this month.

“This was the first country to give me residence, the least I can do is give something back,” Dalembert said Thursday night. “I’m just happy to be a Canadian now.”

If Dalembert’s happy, national team coach Leo Rautins is ecstatic at the prospects of having a skilled big man at his disposal. Dalembert, who averaged 10.7 points and 8.9 rebounds for the Philadelphia 76ers last season, provides the prototypical international-game big man, a quick, shot-blocking presence under the basket and an athlete able to get out and run the floor.

It remains a tall task for Canada to qualify for Beijing this summer — only two of the 10 teams at the tournament in Las Vegas gain Olympic berths — but Canada now has a solid shot at earning a berth in a last-chance tournament next summer, where three berths will be at stake. The teams that finish third, fourth and fifth in Las Vegas earn spots in next summer’s tournament.

“What a Dalembert does is level the playing field just a little bit,” Rautins said. “He’s extremely athletic, he runs the floor like a deer. All you have to do is spend five minutes with the guy and talk basketball, he’s got a tremendous IQ, he picks things up extremely well, he sees things on the floor and he wants to be a team guy.

“Defensively, it just allows us to do more things. Whether you’re playing zone or man-to-man, a Sam Dalembert gives you lots of options with his length and athleticism and IQ back there.”

Dalembert said he considered going through the time-consuming process of becoming a citizen early in his career but he never found the time and missed the chance to play for Canada in the qualification event for the 2004 Athens Games because he was injured.

When the chance presented itself again this summer, he took it.

“My mom always told me to get my citizenship,” he said. “I never really got around to it but when I talked to (Rautins), everything kind of took off.”

Dalembert gives Rautins an anchor for his defence and a big man who can finish around the rim and also represents the lone NBAer on the squad. While Rautins said he still hasn’t heard a “firm no” from Toronto’s Jamaal Magloire, the chance of the New Jersey Net centre playing for Canada for the first time is virtually non-existent.

And two-time NBA most valuable player Steve Nash has ruled out this summer although Rautins said there’s a “very slim chance” Nash might play for Canada next year.