Thursday, 27 August 2009

More Canada Basketball Previews

These are a bit late because I was away for a night however of the two pieces below the first from Michael Grange, as always, is a very good read. Also, Canada got off to a tremendous start from what I hear; I will watch at 10 PM and provide thoughts at some point.

Gherardini racks up the assists for national team MICHAEL GRANGE, BASKETBALL REPORTER

By any realistic standard, it's been a successful summer for Canada Basketball. With the men's and women's national teams getting ready to compete for spots in next year's world championships, it could get even better.

But even before the men start the process at the FIBA Americas Championship - they take on Mexico today; the women's competition is next month in Brazil - the organization can already name its most valuable player.

Playing an essential role behind the scenes has been Toronto Raptors senior vice-president of basketball operations Maurizio Gherardini, who was appointed the senior men's national team managing director in December and has been a leader on previously rudderless ship since.

"It's been a tremendous," Canada Basketball executive director Wayne Parrish said. "Someone could have given us a million dollars and we wouldn't have been able to extract the kind of value he's provided."

The value has been both measurable and hard to quantify, with Gherardini's expertise ranging from moving mountains to smoothing out mole hills. And for an Italian, he can do a pretty good Captain Canada impression.

"No matter how this championship goes, I feel like we've reached our goals this summer," Gherardini said in a telephone interview after landing in San Juan, site of the 2009 tournament. "I think there's more awareness about playing for your country. Playing for your country shouldn't be a question; it is something you should do."

Gherardini's collaboration with the Canadian federation is an outgrowth of the Raptors' desire to positively affect the game nationally.

"It's a natural relationship," said Raptors president and general manager Bryan Colangelo, who suggested Gherardini get involved in Canada Basketball. "A stronger national team program is good for all of basketball in Canada and good for us."

The relationship should continue to develop further given the NBA team signed Gherardini to a two-year contract extension this summer, a not-insignificant move that got lost in Colangelo's flurry of deal-making in July.

Gherardini's national team contributions are vital, if not always the kind of thing that makes headlines. Securing suitable insurance coverage for professional players, for example, has become an increasingly costly challenge for national sports federations.

With a few phone calls, Gherardini connected Canada Basketball with the Italian insurance broker used by FIBA Europe, securing better coverage at a better rate than the organization had previously.

Need some tested international bench experience to help Canada head coach Leo Rautins in the summer of his coaching life? Import the highly respected Renato Pasquali, a top head coach in Europe and former assistant to Mike D'Antoni and Ettore Messina.

Gherardini's unique blend of experience means not only does Rautins have a GM-type figure to bounce decisions off, but Parrish has someone he can rely on for wisdom in areas where expertise simply isn't common or easily gained.

"I think it's safe to say that I've learned more from him in six months than I would have learned in 10 years without him," Parrish said.

On the court, the men's team has typically had a hard time finding the budget to have extended training camps and exhibition games leading up to major competitions.

Gherardini tapped into his network of connections to get the Spanish and Italian federations to pay the expenses for Canadian tours in each country. And if a brief brawl between Italy and Canada that become a hit caused some awkward moments, Gherardini is able to see that moment through Canadian eyes.

"Moments like that help build you team, build chemistry," he said, sounding for a moment as if is hometown is Kingston instead of Forli, Italy. He's drawn on his European experience to implement team lunches and dinners. "This is a team, it's short season, but we need to mould as a team and it's not just about on the basketball court."

Gherardini recognizes too, however, that the international experience has to provide value to the players as well. Is it a coincidence that two national team members, Aaron Doornekamp and Jesse Young, have signed contracts in Italy's top professional league this summer?

"You can imagine I have people calling me about players all the time," he said. "I try to suggest my Canadian players as much as possible."

Gherardini points to results already earned this summer - the newly formed under-16 teams both qualified for the world championships this summer, the U-18 girls finished an impressive fourth at the world championships while the U-18 boys finished a respectable seventh - as signs there is some talent in the pipeline. But for cash-strapped Canada Basketball, there is still much work to be done.


A primer for the FIBA Americas Championship:

What it is The 10-team tournament is held every two years as a qualifier for either the world championship or the Olympics. This year, it's for the worlds.

Where San Juan

Format There are three rounds, beginning with a round robin in which Canada plays one game each against the other four teams in Group A - Mexico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Uruguay and host Puerto Rico. The Canadians then play a round robin against the teams is Group B. The top eight teams qualify for the quarter-finals. The four quarter-finals winners qualify for the 2010 world championship in Turkey.

Past Canada placed fifth in the 2007 Americas Championship.

Roster Canada has nine players back from the team that fell short in Olympic qualifying in Greece last summer. Key returnees include Carl English, Jesse Young, Joel Anthony, Jermaine Anderson and Olu Famutimi. Leo Rautins is the head coach.

Broadcast Games will be carried live on The Score and rebroadcast in the evenings in prime time.

Michael Grange


Canada's men face many challenges in FIBA qualifying

Dale Oviatt, Canwest News Service

Canada's men's basketball team has dubbed itself the Road Warriors for the FIBA Americas Championship that starts today in San Juan, but its biggest challenges in attempting to qualify for the 2010 world championship are not travel.

Canada begins today against Mexico, the first of four games in four days. Ten teams are battling in two pools 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," Canadian coach Leo Rautins said during a conference call yesterday. "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.

Despite being in the easier group, Rautins knows the second challenge for Canada is having this roster prove it belongs with the big nations again. Canada has not been to the worlds since 2002 and has not finished in the top eight since 1994 (seventh). Canada's last Olympics were in 2000, where it also finished seventh.

"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."

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