Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Canada Basketball Preview Stories

Canada Basketball hosted a conference call for media today and the national stories are starting to hit the wires

Canadian hoopsters begin long road toward world championship

By Dale Oviatt, Canwest News Service

Canadian men's basketball hopes for a berth in next summer's world championship will run through Puerto Rico.

The Canadian team, dubbed the Road Warriors, opens the FIBA Americas Championship on Thursday in San Juan against Mexico.

It's the first of four games in four days for the Canadians, who are one of 10 teams in two brackets battling for four berths to next summer's world championship in Turkey.

Canada is in Group A, along with Mexico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Uruguay and the host Puerto Ricans.

“There are no easy games,” said Canadian coach Leo Rautins during a conference call on Wednesday. “Every single game is going to be a challenge and presents its unique issues, based on the team we are playing against. But when you look at the two brackets, certainly we have a good bracket and it's up to us to make the best of it.”

Group B features Argentina, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Panama and Venezuela.

Nine of the 12 players on the Canadian roster are returnees from the 2008 national team, including guard Jermaine Anderson and forward Olu Famutimi of Toronto; forward Aaaron Doornekamp of Odessa, Ont.; guard Carl English of Patrick's Cove, N.L.; forward Levon Kendall and guard Tyler Kepkay of Vancouver; guard Andy Rautins of Syracuse, N.Y.; and forward Jesse Young of Peterborough.

Centre Joel Anthony of Montreal, who is heading into his third season with the NBA's Miami Heat, is also back with the team.

“This is a group that has continuity from being with each other,” said Rautins, who led the Canadians to ninth place at the 2005 Americas Championship and fifth at the 2007 event.

“I think they all understand our margin for error is very, very slim. We have to play aggressive, we have to play smart. We have to play with a lot of discipline every single game to give ourselves an opportunity.”

Nine of the Canadian players are playing in professional leagues, while three others are playing at the NCAA or the Canadian Interuniversity Sport level.

Anthony, who signed a one-year contract with the Heat this summer, will be counted on to lead the Canadians throughout the tournament and with any luck, into Turkey.

He said he takes just as much pride in wearing the Maple Leaf as he does playing for the Heat.

“One of the biggest things and main reasons that I opt to do this and want to this . . . is just to be able to represent Canada,” said Anthony. “Putting on the Canadian jersey and being able to represent my country in international competition means a lot to me.

“Obviously, playing for Miami is my job, it's what I do during the season. It's a little different type of pressure. Here, you are playing for your country and trying to prove to the world that your country is able to compete with others. In Miami, it's geared toward being able to perform in the business. But it's still, it's the game that you love.”

Competing with the rest of the world has been more of a struggle in some years. The Canadian program has been on its own roller-coaster ride over the past two decades, and Rautins is hoping this tournament will show that Canada can be an international force again.

“A lot of times things are cyclical. Canada at one point in time was a very strong program and respected globally,” said Rautins. “We had a dip and it's our job now to get it back to where it needs to be. With the success of our younger teams, we have a lot of good young talent. It's upon us to take the younger talent and continue to develop it and have success at this level.

“If we are able to get to the worlds, and play in the worlds, it just raises our status globally. Everybody is put in the position now where that's what they want to accomplish.

“They want to get Canada to where we feel we should be in terms of the global game.”

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