Toronto, Canada – After a shocking 91-89 defeat at the hands of Panama, Canada's senior men's basketball team's run at the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship came to a crashing conclusion and with it the end of the country's 2012 Summer Olympic hopes.
In a tournament where there was a makeable goal, to finish at least fifth place so the team may qualify for next summer's last-chance Olympic-qualifying tournament, Canada came up short in games it had to win.
The team's final contest, against Panama, is probably the game that Canadian basketball fans will remember the most because the loss put the final nail in the coffin of the squad's Olympic hopes. But even if Canada had won, it still wouldn't have qualified because of Venezuela.
That 103-98 overtime thriller that Canada lost to Venezuela is the reason why the team was shut out of fifth place and it's especially disappointing because Canada did have a chance to win the game after Venezuelan star guard and the tournament's leading scorer, Greivis Vasquez, fouled out.
Alas, in the end, talking about what could have been doesn't change the reality of the situation - a reality that Canada's senior men's national basketball program is now in its darkest hour.
With this failure to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympics, Canada's men's basketball team has now been denied an Olympic berth for three straight Olympiads, the longest drought in the history of the program.
A part of the drought was under the watch of Jay Triano, a coach who took Canada to the 2000 Summer Games, but most of it has been on Leo Rautins' watch.
From the very moment Rautins was hired he was a very controversial choice because, while he was one of the best basketball players to ever suit up for the Red and White, he came into the job with no formal coaching experience.
As a result, much criticism over the years was directed at Rautins and Canada Basketball itself for the decision to hire Rautins whenever the team came up short. Whether or not that criticism was warranted, it seems that Rautins understood the severity of this most recent failure and decided to step down as head coach.
"I think, personally, at this point to continue the things that need to be done I've made a decision that this team needs a new voice in the locker room," Rautins said in a conference call with the media after the Panama game. "It's [a decision] I've given a lot of thought to. We could very easily have been in the final four of this tournament."
Rautins said the decision was all his own as he no longer wanted to have to put pressure on Canada Basketball to defend him. It's a noble sentiment but it's possible that Rautins would have been asked to step down anyway, no matter how well liked he is within the organization.
However, because of his good standing in the organization, it's already been eluded to that Rautins will stay on with the national program in some capacity.
"Leo has been for many, many years the heart and soul of this program and I don't think that's going to change," Canada Basketball's CEO Wayne Parrish said. "I just know that the success of this program is going to be tied in large part to what Leo has achieved today and what I believe he will continue to achieve in the future."
It's undeniable that Rautins hasn't been the best coach but his passion for Canada's senior men's team is something to be admired and keeping him on with the program will probably be for the best.
"This hasn't been a job, this has been a passion, this has been something that I've loved doing," Rautins said. "I love this program, I want to be involved with this program, I want to help this program. We have a lot of great kids, I want to help all our kids at different levels in this country.
"I was part of this program as a youngster where we were among the best in the world and that's where I see us, that's where I see this program. So what's next for me is doing whatever part I can to make that happen. That's a priority for me."
So where does this leave the Canadian senior men's basketball program now?
Rautins was spot-on when he said that a new voice in the locker room was needed but it's not just that. The team needs a complete overhaul and that includes saying goodbye to some of the more senior members of the team to make room for a crop of players that may just be the most talented the country's ever seen.
In order to move forward, old stalwarts like Jesse Young, Carl English, Levon Kendall, Denham Brown and Jermaine Anderson may have to retire from international play.
There weren't a lot positives to be found in the team's recent tournament performance but Kelly Olynyk's play was definitely one.
At only 20 years of age, Olynyk, along with Cory Joseph, appears to be the beginnings of a new core that could be joined by the likes of 2011 NBA Draft fourth overall pick Tristan Thompson, Texas Longhorn freshman Myck Kabongo and St. Bonaventure senior standout Andrew Nicholson.
Perhaps because of all the young talent that could be coming up Parrish has said that the target has always been the 2016 Olympics but that's going to be an awfully long wait, especially because the team will essentially be taking a year off next year.
This stops all forward momentum the program had going for itself ever since it qualified for last year's World Championships and actually made it take a few steps back.
The damage done hasn't exactly made Canada's senior men's basketball team hit rock bottom but it has undoubtedly made it go through one of the worst times in the history of the program.