It has become something of a pregame ritual for Micheal Meeks. Every day when Canada's basketball team plays at the Olympics, Meeks boots up his computer and checks for the latest correspondence from Mike MacDonald, his former coach at Canisius College.
"I've been talking to Coach 'Mac' a lot," Meeks said Saturday. "He sends me e-mails before every game. Basically, he wishes me good luck and tells me to keep doing what I'm doing."
Of course, it would be virtually impossible for Meeks to keep up what he's been doing since the Olympic men's basketball tournament began. For the first week of the Games, the former Golden Griffin star was the talk of a field that included Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett and Gary Payton.
Meeks might not be a Dream Teamer, but he's been having a dream Olympics. After his first three games, the Brampton, Ont., native was third in the Games in scoring at 18.3 points a game. He was shooting 76.2 percent from the floor, including 8 for 10 from the three-point line. And he was shooting 93.8 percent from the line.
He was in a zone. He couldn't miss, and he was one of the main reasons for Canada's surprising early showing at these Games. The Canadians won their first three games, assuring themselves a spot in the eight-team medal round and slightly easing the sting of their country's weak overall showing here.
Things were bound to level off sooner or later, though. Saturday afternoon, Meeks turned human again, scoring six points on 3-for-8 shooting in a 77-59 loss to Russia. He played only 19 minutes against the Russians, who shot 53 percent and basically outclassed the Canadians along the front line.
"Russia's a good team," said the 6-foot-9 Meeks. "They've got a lot of talented players. We're usually able to get up on people defensively, but today they were able to get through our defense and get some easy baskets. Offensively, it wasn't a good day for me or the team. Shots that were dropping the last couple of days weren't dropping today. But that's how it goes sometimes. You still have to focus on defense and stop teams from scoring."
Canada, which hasn't won an Olympic basketball medal since a silver in 1936, is 3-1. Its final game in Group B is against unbeaten Yugoslavia. If the Canadians win that game, they'll finish first in the pool and avoid having to meet the Americans until the final.
Getting to the final would be a remarkable achievement for Canada, which struggled in exhibitions before the Games and wasn't expected to be much of a factor here. So it's been an especially gratifying week for Meeks, who was thrilled simply to make it to an Olympics.
"Oh man, this is like a dream come true," Meeks said. "This was one of my goals ever since I started playing in the Canadian national program. To finally achieve it is a great feeling. We're here and we're competing and we're competing pretty well.
"In college the thing was to get to the NCAA Tournament and I achieved that. Unfortunately, we didn't win any games there. On the national team, my goal was to get to the Olympics and win some games and go home with a medal. I'm still working on getting that."
Since graduating from Canisius in 1996, Meeks has played professionally in Turkey, Germany and the last two years in France. He said there's a good chance he'll be returning to his French team when the Olympics end.
"I love playing overseas," he said. "You get to absorb other cultures and learn about other countries. Plus, you get to play some competitive basketball in some good leagues."
MacDonald, who recruited Meeks as a Canisius assistant, said he wasn't surprised by his performance. Meeks was part of some great teams during his time in Buffalo. He was the MVP when the Griffs won the '96 MAAC Tournament and earned their first trip to the NCAA Tournament in 38 years.
"He's one of the greatest players ever at Canisius," MacDonald said by phone from Buffalo. "It's nice for him to be able to play on that stage. Few players we recruit will ever get that opportunity. He sent me a nice postcard from Hawaii before they went to Sydney, thanking me for working with him. He's one of the great all-time guys. He even answers e-mails from our alumni.
"I don't think Gary Payton is e-mailing any alumni from Oregon State."