Monday, 24 August 2009

Frank Ziccarelli's Canada Basketball Qualifier Preview

Canada faces challenges to qualify for world 2010 hoops

Canada's margin for error is so thin that virtually every possession must produce a good look at the basket.

Defensively, it must limit second-chance points and force turnovers.

Even if Canada makes shots and stops and even if its bench steps up, there's no guarantee the men's national side will earn a berth in next year's world championship.

"I'm optimistic, but I also have to be realistic,'' head coach Leo Rautins said from San Juan, Puerto Rico, where the FIBA Americas Championship tips off on Wednesday.

"We understand what we're up against and who we're playing. If we don't play with energy and don't take care of the basketball, we're in trouble."

You look at Canada's roster, its schedule and the quality of opposition that awaits and you're left wondering how it possibly can book its place in Turkey, which will host next year's 24-nation world event.

Only one player -- Levon Kendall -- has EuroLeague experience.

Only one player -- Joel Anthony -- plays in the NBA.

With all due respect to Anthony, who is an emerging presence, his role is best suited as a depth player.

While Canada continues to produce a wave of young and skilled ballers, the gap between the grassroots level and the national team level remains large.

Times slowly are changing, but until kids view the national program as a springboard to future success, there always will exist both this gap and concerns about Canada's ability to qualify for a major tournament.

The core group that takes to the floor on Thursday to play Mexico has been together for a few years.

However, Canada plays four games on four successive days, so depth will be a huge issue. If the Canadian bench doesn't respond, it's in deep trouble, plain and simple.

With so little scoring options, Canada must rely on its defensive intensity and play a style that forces turn overs, which hopefully leads to easy transition points.

"Let's not kid ourselves,'' Rautins said. "There are weaknesses with our group.

"What I like about this group is that they all get along and we're getting better. They're understanding each other and they're getting more comfortable."

A recent trip to Italy brought the team even closer as a unit and provided overseas clubs an opportunity to inspect the Canadian product.


Aaron Doornekamp and Jesse Young, who has been anointed captain, secured contracts to play in Italy this fall.

Carl English will be asked to score and Jermaine Anderson has to protect the basketball and make the right decisions.

Rautins can't afford to play his starters more than 24 minutes because the format is very onerous.

Following its game against Mexico, Canada plays the Virgin Islands, a small and quick unit led by Raja Bell, an experienced and tournament-tough team in Uruguay and the host Puerto Ricans, a very guard-oriented unit led by Jose Barea and Carlos Arroya.

Group B consists of Brazil (Leandro Barbosa, Anderson Varejao), which beat Canada on Thursday to win the Marchand Cup in San Juan, Argentina (Luis Scola), Dominican Republic (Charlie Villanueva, Francisco Garcia, Al Horford, Trevor Ariza), Panama and Venezuela.

One team from each group is eliminated following pool play. Records get carried over in a carryover quarterfinal minus the result against the knocked-out team.

If, for example, Canada was to go 2-2 in pool play and one of the wins came against, say Uruguay, which failed to advance, Canada's record heading into the four-game quarterfinal stage would be 1-2.

When the tournament wraps up on Sept. 6, four teams automatically will advance to the world championship.

A fifth qualifier from the region will earn a wild-card berth, which looms as the most realistic opportunity for Canada.

Here's hoping for the best, but Canada's chances aren't good.


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