Friday, 6 July 2007

Jr. Nats Ready to Travel

KEATON COLE has elevated his game since last summer, leading Eastern Commerce to the OFSAA "AAAA" championship game and now earning his way onto Canada's Jr. National team. Cole appears to have a bright future with Canada's national team program.

JR. NATS READY TO ROLL: In their final tuneup prior to leaving for Serbia and the FIBA World U19 championships, Canada's Jr. National team scrimmaged against a group of Toronto-area stars last night at Durham College in Oshawa. The team will leave for Serbia tomorrow from Toronto, giving the group plenty of time to adjust to the time change and the inevitable fatigue travelling 6 time zones brings. More importantly, the group will be able to spend time together on and off the floor for 4 or 5 days prior to the first game, providing solid time to adjust to the arenas and bond as a team. Head Coach Greg Francis is confident going into the tournament. "We have enough depth with our talent to roll out 8 or 9 players in the rotation which is important given that we have to play basically one game each day." Francis also commented on the overall maturity of the group, especially the ability to execute at key points in games: "We had several situations in the overtime game at Monmouth and the one-point win in Guelph where offensively at key times in the games we got the shots we wanted in the context of our offense. This bodes well for the championships." Francis believes his team, led by recently-named captains Chretien Lukusa and Scott Brittain, is strong enough as a group to overcome the inevitable obstacles that come while playing abroad. Having the team together for a number of weeks has helped with this underrated issue. Expect a solid effort defensively as well; the longer the group is together, the better the team defense promises to be. Francis identified assistant coach Craig Beaucamp as key in teaching, reinforcing and adjusting the team defense, which relies on selective double teams and then proper defensive rotations off the ball.

During last summer's qualification tournament, the team was led offensively by 3 players: Devoe Joseph, Olu Ashaolu and Junior Cadougan, who combined to take 52% of the shots overall. After a tremendous 29 for 44 performance by the Big 3 in the first game of the qualifiers, a Canadian victory over Puerto Rico, the group combined to shoot 33.7% (55-163) during the remaining 4 games, 3 of them losses. Without the solid offensive skills and finishing abilities of Ashaolu and Cadougan in this summer's lineup, expect Canada to be much more balanced, looking for offense from multiple players led by 6'2" Devoe Joseph, the likely go-to guy in the backcourt and 6'8" Brittain, who has an array of inside/out skills including range beyond the 3 point line. When Canada wants to go small, a potential lineup of 5'10" Keaton Cole (pictured at top) at the point leading a running game with Devoe Joseph, Lukusa, Brittain and 6'6" sharpshooter Jon House could be deployed. When the team wants to go big, look for Devoe to assume more ball handling duties and see 6'5" Alwayne Bigby, 6'5" Kai Williams (pictured at left) in the mix along with House on the wings, 6'7" Boris Bakovic, possibly as a big "3" with Brittain at the "4" and Canada's two centers, 7'0" Max Craig-Zuyderhoff (pictured) and 6'11" Zach Nagtzaam, sharing time in the low post. Expect Canada to start at least one of the two centers in the opener on Thursday against Nigeria. In the end, Canada's ability to defend, rebound and get good shots in the context of the offense will be key, especially against disciplined European and South American sides. Stay tuned for more on the tournament as the first game draws nearer.

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