TORONTO, Ont. (October 30, 2019) - Roughly seven weeks after returning from China after representing Canada at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019, Khem Birch was sitting in the visitor’s locker room at Scotiabank Arena. The Orlando Magic were in town to play the Toronto Raptors and the team was preparing to hit the floor for a morning shootaround. With the 2019-20 NBA season underway, his summer campaign with the Senior Men’s National Team was receding into the background, but Birch still had fond words for the time spent with his fellow Canadians.
“It was great,” he said of another summer playing for Team Canada. “Representing my country, trying to make the Olympics, we didn't do it yet, but we’ve still got another year [to try to qualify].”
Birch has been involved with Team Canada for over a decade, dating back to when he was a member of the junior national teams. Getting to spend his summers with some of the guys he’s grown up playing with and against is only an added bonus of playing for Canada.
“It’s great, Birch said. “You only get to do it so many times, so I love going back, talking about our families, our seasons and just catching up. Just going through 20-hour flights together, practices, that’s something I’ll cherish forever and remember.”
Birch averaged 11.6 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.0 steals, 1.6 assists and 1.4 blocks for Canada at the World Cup. Though the team didn’t qualify for the Olympics in the tournament, next up will be a FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in summer 2020 to determine the final spots for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
A lot has changed with respect to basketball in Canada since Birch began his own basketball journey. From the Raptors winning an NBA title in June and raising a Championship banner in Canada for the first time just a week ago, to there being a record 20 Canadians in the NBA this season, Birch is proud of the way the game has grown here at home, even when he’s suiting up for the away team.
“We have a lot of potential,” he said. “I started playing when I was like 16. It’s so different now, it’s like an evolution. I remember being in a dorm, 16 years old and now we’re staying in five-star hotels, competing at a high, high level. It’s been a good change and I think it’s going to be even better in the future.”
Fans in attendance at Scotiabank Arena had an opportunity to show their appreciation to him for his commitment to the Canadian National Team during Monday's game. He received a warm ovation when he was shown on the jumbotron at the 8:20 mark of the third quarter and it was obvious the feeling was mutual, as he tweeted his thanks after the game.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Thank you <a href="https://twitter.com/CanBball?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CanBball</a> and Toronto. First class move. Like I always say, no better feeling then representing my country. <a href="https://t.co/wWRocspbxm">https://t.co/wWRocspbxm</a></p>— Khem Birch (@Khem_Birch) <a href="https://twitter.com/Khem_Birch/status/1189338367739289600?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">October 30, 2019</a></blockquote>
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Birch, who recently turned 27, is in his third season with the Magic after re-signing with the organization this past summer. His own path to the NBA was a winding one, featuring a season in the NBA G League, and then two seasons overseas with stints in Turkey and Greece before finding his way to the Magic.
In addition to seeing how much basketball has grown within Canada, Birch also has taken note of how the game has changed since he turned pro. “Shooting threes [is something new],” he said. “The NBA has changed now, so you’ve got to be able to shoot a little bit from the outside. I definitely would not would be taking those shots [a few years ago]. Coming from Europe, the three-point line was shorter. I remember the NBA three-point line felt like it was half-court when I first got here, now it just feels like it’s regular. It just takes repetition.”
Another thing that just feels regular to Birch is suiting up for Team Canada. “I want to be part of it forever,” he said. “I love Canada, I love my country, I love basketball. It’s something I want to do not just now, but also in the future.”