By Stuart Miller-Davis
The not-so-distant memory of the Scrubb brothers’ dominance isn’t lost on local basketball fans.
Beginning in 2010, Thomas and Phil won five national championships over as many seasons as the centrepieces of Carleton University’s juggernaut men’s team.
Now they’re keen on an even greater pursuit – getting Canada’s team back to the Olympic Games.
The last time Canada sent a team to the Olympics was in 2000, when the Canadian men lost to France in the quarterfinals and finished seventh. The only time Canada’s won a medal in the event was in its first appearance in 1936, where they scored silver.
Canada’s international drought goes deeper when considering non-Olympic play. It’s never won the FIBA World Cup, FIBA AmeriCup or Pan Am Games, despite more than a dozen appearances at each. The only time the men’s team has ever won a gold medal in a major international competition was at the university level at the 1983 Summer Universiade, which was hosted in Edmonton.
Despite being in a Golden Age for Canadian basketball talent, many of Canada’s top players – those who are a part of NBA rosters – have repeatedly opted out of important international play, contributing to Canada’s squandering of its earlier opportunity to qualify for Tokyo 2020.
In those gaps the Scrubbs have stepped up, answering the national team’s call to try and return Canada to the most important international basketball tournament.
“The Olympics is always kind of a big goal for a lot of athletes and it’s been a lot of years working up to this point in time,” said Phil, a three-time U Sports player of the year. “I think that being part of that process has been great and whatever my part is in helping the team qualify if asked I can do it.”
The brothers joined forces at the FIBA World Cup last year (a team they were joined on by fellow Ravens’ alumnus Kaza Kajami-Keane) to try and help Canada qualify. They were denied, finishing 21st.
Canada did, however, narrowly qualify for the FIBA World Olympic qualifying tournament, which will be the national team’s last chance to earn an Olympic berth. The qualifiers were supposed to be held in June in B.C. – the brothers’ home province – but a COVID-19-caused postponement has pushed that tournament to next summer.
“You never know what can happen,” said Thomas, a two-time winner of the U Sports defensive player of the year. “There may be a lot of NBA players there, so I might not get the chance, but I’ll be ready no matter what, and if I’m called, I’ll be ready to play and represent my country.”
The brothers debuted for the national team together back in 2011, playing for a development team that finished 4th at the World University Games. Ever since they’ve relished the opportunity to put on Maple Leaf.
“My career representing my country has been a goal of mine since I was growing up,” Phil said. “Being able to do that over the last 10 or so years has been a real honor and I’m looking forward to continuing to be a part of the program.”
“The overall experience, being able to travel the world and play against some of the best players in the world has really helped me to grow a lot and helped me to see what I need to improve my game,” Thomas added.
Outside of their play with the national team, both brothers have taken their talents across the ocean to play in the European pro ranks. Phil’s overseas career began in Greece before he made pitstops in Germany, Russia and, most recently, Spain. Thomas began his pro career in Finland and has also played in Germany, Italy and France.
This summer, the brothers signed on with the Ottawa Blackjacks of the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) – reuniting with their former Ravens coach Dave Smart, the Blackjacks’ general manager. In the shortened season, that equated to a multi-week tournament, Thomas led the team in scoring with 15 points per game. Phil averaged 16 points per game through two outings, before leaving to join the pro team he signed with in France. The Blackjacks were eliminated in the semifinals of the CEBL summer series, which represented the team’s inaugural season.
As for the leadup to next summer, and chasing the Olympics, the brothers are staying optimistic.
“I think we always have a good chance,” Phil said. “We always have a talented group of players; I mean we’ll see who ends up on the team, but I think no matter what we have a good program in place.” Until then, the brothers will be competing against each other with opposing French clubs. Phil recently signed a two-year contract with Limoges CSP, while Thomas will play his first season with JL Bourg this year.