To say the last few months have been a whirlwind for Jordi Fernández would be an understatement.
After deciding to coach the Canadian men’s national basketball team in late June following Nick Nurse’s abrupt departure, the long-time NBA assistant and a nation are in uncharted territory.
Fernández joined The JD Bunkis Podcast from the Philippines to discuss Canada’s incredible run at the FIBA World Cup ahead of Friday’s semifinal clash with Serbia (4:45 AM ET on Sportsnet and Sportsnet NOW).
Fernández’s links to Canadian basketball go way back thanks to his friendship with Jay Triano, so he was no stranger to the heartbreak this program has suffered over the years since Steve Nash & Co. last qualified for the Olympics in 2000.
“I didn’t need to ask many people about that,” he said. “But when I got in there was great organization, all the resources possible to accomplish what we wanted to do, and a great group of guys that were committed to work every single day and compete.”
The current Sacramento Kings assistant didn’t have long to acclimate himself to the team, but managing players and relationships was a strength that carried Fernández deep into the hiring process for multiple NBA head coaching gigs, including with the Toronto Raptors. That asset has been on display throughout this World Cup.
Fernández hasn’t shied away from holding his best players accountable for uneven performances, namely Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dillon Brooks. But that tough love doesn’t remove the admiration he shares for both men.
Gilgeous-Alexander has been the player of the tournament and increased his star status after dispatching Slovenia and Luka Dončić in a virtuoso performance on Wednesday.
“I see a leader,” said Fernández of Gilgeous-Alexander. “I see an extremely coachable player that holds himself and the rest of the team accountable, and that’s the reason why we’re so good.”
SGA’s victory in the Dončić head-to-head didn’t surprise his coach either.
“Shai’s a competitor and obviously he wanted to prove that he’s the best player in this tournament and I give him credit for that,” Fernández continued.
“It’s not like he just scored, he led the game in rebounding, and he had four assists to one turnover. His ability to create for his teammates and not turn the ball over was amazing and his efficiency scoring cannot get better than that. I think he dominated the game. Luka is a great, great player, but I think Shai came ready to play and prove that he’s the best player in this tournament.”
Brooks, alongside Lu Dort, played a huge role in thwarting Dončić. The Houston Rockets forward made headlines last season for seemingly all the wrong reasons, but the last month has served as a key reminder of what makes him so valuable.
The many aspects of Brooks’ game were on display in the Slovenia game, including an ejection in the fourth quarter, but his coach remains an ardent supporter.
“(Dillon’s) been great to just deal with. His work ethic and how he approaches everything, how much he gets involved with his teammates and those relationships and his toughness,” said Fernández.
“The ejection, I’m not going to argue the calls. We just got to keep our composure in those moments and we’re going to need him moving forward. This is going to get a little bit more emotional, a little more competitive. So that was a really good learning experience for him and for us. I love Dillon. I would have him on my team for the rest of my life, whether it’s in the NBA or FIBA. I could not ask for a better player in that role.”
Canada’s journey at the FIBA World Cup continues against Serbia in the semifinals on Friday at 4:45 AM ET on Sportsnet and Sportsnet NOW.