Friday, 20 April 2007

Canada Basketball Men's Programs 2007 - A First Look

It will be another busy summer at Canada Basketball with three men's teams wearing the Maple Leaf in international play including an important summer for the Senior Men's team, which begins Olympic qualifying in August at the FIBA Americas tournament in Las Vegas. As well, the Student team will compete in the FISU Games (formerly World University Games) in Bangkok, Thialand while the U-19 Men's national team, which qualified for the world's last summer in San Antonio, will compete in the FIBA U-19 world championships in Nobisad, Serbia in July.

The international basketball landscape has had a dramatic shift since the original U.S.A. Dream Team dominated opponents at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. It has been almost 7 years since the Americans last won a Gold medal at a Senior men's world championship or Olympic tournament (2000 Olympics in Sydney). The drought is 3 major events and counting as the U.S. dropped the world championships in both 2002 (on American soil in Indianapolis) and 2006 (a loss to Greece in the gold medal game last summer and failed to even advance beyond the semi-finals in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. European and South American teams, featuring highly-skilled, multi-talented athletes, all of whom can shoot the ball, handle and pass have caught up to and arguably have by-pass the U.S. using quick-hitting offensive sets with fundamental screens and cuts augmented by crisp screen and rolls that rely on instinctively reading defenses and usually result in a good shot for whoever has a mismatch or is open off draw and kicks. The success of this fundamentally-sound approach has brought the United States back to the pack quickly and nation's wanting to compete with the world's elite are being forced to reassess the traditional ways of developing and coaching basketball talent. Arguably, the game is beginning to pass the U.S. by as the team concept begins to surpass concepts around individually skilled players, traditional back-to-the-basket low post play and attacking the rim at all costs. Canada's only NBA franchise, Toronto Raptors, are a tremendous example of how the influence of European basketball can improve a team's fortunes in a hurry as Euros such as Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, Jorge Garbajosa, Rasho Nesterovic and Anthony Parker (an American who spent 5 formidable season playing in Europe) all have been instrumental in turning the team around. Each and every one of these Euros can shoot, handle and pass the ball and, more importantly, know how to play the game in a team concept. As Canada looks to improve their international standing, we do so in a backdrop of a world basketball landscape that is changing away from the glamour of scoring in transition and getting to the rim to more fundamentally-sound, purer form of the game that already has proven to be successful.

All 3 Canadian teams that will compete this summer will have some CIS flavour, either on the coaching staff or on the roster or both. Here is a first look at each team including recent history, coaching staff, what is currently known about the summer schedule and a projection of some potential CIS players who could make the rosters.

U-19 Men's Team: Head Coach Greg Francis, who steered the program to qualify for the world's last summer in San Antonio, will begin preparation in mid-June for the FIBA world U-19 championships, which were to take place in Vancouver but were moved to Nobisad, Serbia. University of Victoria Vikes Head Coach Craig Beaucamp and Toronto Eastern Commerce Head man Roy Rana complete Francis' staff, which projects to be made up of a number of existing and projected NCAA players with the possibility of a number of solid CIS rising sophomores and freshmen who meet the age requirements also with a chance to crack the roster. Canada qualified for the U-19 Worlds with a fourth-place finish at last summer's U-18 FIBA Americas championships, an 8 team event in which Canada finished 2-1 in the qualifying round before losing 92-66 to the U.S. in the championship semi-finals and dropping a 79-70 affair to Brazil in the Bronze medal game. The FIBA Americas qualifier capped a 3-6 summer for the squad after a 1-3 record at the Global Games in Dallas, where the young Canadian squad faced older, veteran sides to prepare for the qualifier with their only victory coming against the U.S. 68-66. Top players on last summer's team included 6'3" Devoe Joseph, a combo guard who recently led Pickering H.S. Trojans to the OFSAA "AAAA" (Ontario) championships in Hamilton and was Canada's leading scorer in the qualifying tournament last summer. A pair of Canadians originally from the Greater Toronto Area who have spent the past three seasons playing high school basketball in the U.S. were also instrumental in Canada's success as 6'8" wing Olu Ashaolu, currently ranked #35 in Van Coleman's list of the top players in the Class of 2008, and 5'11" point guard Junior Cadougan, #12 ranked by Coleman in the Class of 2009, each played major minutes for their country. Both left Canada early in their high school careers and most recently spent this past season with Humble Christian Life Academy in Humble, TX. The U-18's qualified despite not having 6'8" Scott Brittain (Oakville, ON), who was injured in the Global Games just prior to the qualifying tournament and had been arguably Canada's most consistent post player. Brittain just completed a successful freshman season with Boston University Terriers (NCAA D1 America East conference) during which he averaged 7.0 points and 6.0 rebounds in 29 minutes per game while starting 28 of 29 games. Expect 7'0" Robert Sacre, headed to Gongaza, and 6'6" sharpshooter Jonathan House (Guelph Centennial), headed to Belmont, to also push for spots on this summer's team. The lone CIS player on last summer's roster was 6'6" Brent Malish, who just finished his freshman season at UBC. Malish, fellow teammmate at UBC 6'1" Alex Murphy and 6'7" Boris Bakovic, OUA East Rookie-of-the-year from Ryerson are others who could push for roster spots. Tryouts for the U-19 side begin on June 15th in Toronto, likely at Humber College. At the tournament, which begins on July 12th, the preliminary round sees Canada in Group C with Australia, Turkey and Nigeria - there are 6 groups of 4 teams apiece. The top 3 teams from each of the six groups advance to the second round, which will be broken up into new groups with games played against advancing teams in their original groups counting in the second round standings. There will be 3 more games in the second round and the top 8 teams will qualify for the Quarter-Finals, Semi-Finals and Finals. Canada will need to win 2 games in the first round to assure themselves of a spot in the second round although also could qualify with just one win. Official 2007 FIBA U-19 Web Site

FISU Games Student Team: Canada has had a rich history in these games including a Gold Medal at the 1983 games (then called the World University Games) under Coach Jack Donohue and a Silver medal in 1999 when Coach Mike Katz's squad took an 8 point lead into the intermission in Italy before U.S.A.'s Earl Boykins took the game over late to hand Canada their only defeat of the tournament in the championship game. This season, Guelph skipper Chris O'Rourke heads our coaching staff and look for the roster to be filled with NCAA Division 1 and CIS stars. Former UPEI Panther and now Humber College head coach Darrell Glenn and uOttawa Gee-Gees head coach Dave DeAveiro round out the FISU team's coaching staff. The FISU games are oriented around university/college aged athletes and to qualify for participation in the basketball event, an athlete must be just one year removed from being a student at a university or college. Canada did not have to qualify for this event and the roster will likely be filled with players who qualify according to the student rule, are too old for the U-19 team and likely will not make the Senior Men's national team. The roster for this team will likely be named a few days into the centralized camp which begins in June in Toronto once the Senior team begins to finalize its roster, which should be set in late June. The FISU teams expects to assemble on August 1st in Vancouver for about 5 days before leaving for the Far East and the FISU tournament which begins on August 8th. The schedule of games for the basketball portion of FISU Games Bangkok 2007 has not yet been made public. 2007 FISU Summer Games Official Basketball Web Site

Canada's Sr. National Team: Ranked #15 in the world by FIBA, the governing body of basketball in the world, Canada's Senior Men's national basketball team begins their quest to qualify for the 2008 Olympics with FIBA Americas 2007 Olympic Qualifying Tournament beginning August 22nd, 2007 in Las Vegas. Canada needs to finish in the Top 5 of this tournament to remain in contention for a spot in Beijing - a top 2 finish would ensure a spot at the 2008 Olympics, while teams finishing 3 through 5 will advance to a pre-Olympic tournament next summer with a chance to advance to the Olympic tournament. Head Coach Leo Rautins, who begins his third summer at the helm of the program, has an experienced staff including head coach of five-time CIS National champions Carleton Ravens, Dave Smart and former Canadian National team forward Wayne Yearwood, who directed the Dawson College Blues to the CCAA National title in Truro, Nova Scotia last month. Rautins recently also named Cleveland Cavaliers’ assistant coach Michael Malone to the coaching staff. Malone is the son of former Toronto Raptor head coach and former Syracuse Orangeman assistant Brendan Malone, who coached Leo at Syracuse University.

In preparation for the Olympic qualifier, Canada will participate in the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, beginning on July 25th (schedule not yet released). About 3 weeks after the Pam-Am's, Canada participates in the FIBA Americas Olympic Qualifying Tournament beginning August 22nd at the Thomas and Mack Center on the campus of the University of Las Vegas-Nevada (UNLV). In all, there are 10 teams participating in the initial qualifying event in Las Vegas including (FIBA world ranking) #1 United States, #2 Argentina, #13 Puerto Rico, #17 Brazil, #21 Venezuela, #30 Panama, #31 Uruguay, #34 Mexico and the US Virgin Islands. The top 2 teams in the Las Vegas event advance directly to the 2008 Olympics while finisers 3 through 5 enter in another qualifier just prior to the 2008 games next summer. Six of the teams in this summer's qualifier, including #15 Canada, are ranked in the FIBA world Top 25. With the U.S. and Argentina the probable favorites for the top 2 spots at this summer's qualifier, one of the 4 remaining teams in the current Top 25 will be eliminated from Olympics contention at this tournament. The 10 teams at the Las Vegas event will initially be placed into two Groups of five. Canada has been placed in Group B and will open the tournament against Brazil in the first game of Group B action. Other teams in Group B include the United States, the US Virgin Islands, and Venezuela. Group A includes Argentina, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico and Uruguay. Each team will play one game against all others in their group in the preliminary round, with the fifth-place finisher in each group eliminated from the tournament. From there, 8 teams move on to the second round where games against their qualifiers in their group continue to count and four more games, against qualifying teams from the other group, are played. The top four teams advance to the semi-finals, while the FIFTH PLACE team in the second round standings becomes the fifth and final team to remain in contention for qualifying (tie breaking formulas not yet made available).

Canada had a rather light summer of play in 2006, participating in 3 tournaments in Europe and coming home with a record of 2-6 in 8 games. Last summer began with the Diego Gianetti Invitational tournament in Bormio, Italy where Canada lost games to host Italy (73-67), eventual world champions Greece (89-59) and Serbia-Montenegro (95-83). Canada then move north to Germany for a quick two game set against the Dirk Nowitski-led German National team in Nuremburg where Canada pulled off a 71-68 victory before losing 95-75 in the second game. Finally, Canada entered the International Alpos Cup in Slovenia, defeating Venezuela 108-86 before dropping decisions to Lebanon (83-80) and Slovania (87-72). Some of the top players for Canada last summer included 6'5" Alex English, an athletic wing who played 3 seasons at Hawaii, 6'5" Dave Thomas, who was sixth man on Michigan State's most recent NCAA championship team, 6'9" Levon Kendall, who just graduated from Pitt and 6'10" Nate Doornekamp, formerly of Boston College. Calgary's 6'5" Jermaine Bucknor (Richmond), 6'7" Rans Brempong (Western Carolina) and 6'2" Jermaine Anderson (Fordham) also were key contributors. CIS players from this season who should merit strong consideration for this summer's National team include CIS Final 8 MVP Aaron Doornekamp (Carleton), Osvaldo Jeanty (Carleton), Garry Gallimore (St. FX) and Casey Archibald (UBC). Expect a number of CIS stars to accept invitations to tryout at the main camp which begins in mid June in Toronto. Stay tuned for more specific information as it becomes available.

Official 2007 FIBA Americas Men's Championship Web Site

Here is FIBA's current list of the Top 25 basketball nations in the world with FIBA Americas 2007 Olympic qualifying tournament participants in BOLD:

Rank Points
1. USA 832.0
2. ARG 720.0
3. ESP 619.0
4. YUG 508.0
5. LTU 460.0
6. GRE 429.0
7. ITA 418.0
8. FRA 343.0
9. GER 282.0
10. AUS 279.0
11. CHN 262.0
12. NZL 228.0
13. PUR 218.0
14. ANG 206.0
15. CAN 196.0
16. TUR 194.0
17. BRA 168.0
18. RUS 162.0
19. CRO 125.0
20. SLO 121.0
21. VEN 105.0
22. NGR 101.0
23. ISR 62.0
24. LIB 57.0
25. KOR 52.0

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