Friday, July 31, 2009

Hoops: Canada pulls major upset, somewhat tinged with irony

There is half a mind to get bumper stickers of the image below made up and then go stick them up around Sport Canada's headquarters today.

Canada Basketball recently had to shutter its National Elite Development Agency residency program for lack of funds, since the highers-up in Canadian sport have decided to put everything into whatever offers the shortest, cheapest course to the Olympic podium and have said to hell with competing in any truly global sport whose popularity isn't based on a cold-weather climate and/or affluence . So what happened? Today in Bangkok, at the FIBA Under 19 World Championship for Women, Canada, with a nucleus of players who trained at NEDA, went out and beat a serious summer sport nation, Australia, 50-49, to reach the event's semi-final for the first time.

How about that? Perhaps it was one of those any-given-Friday scenarios. Outside of their leading scorer, the Australians missed 41 of 49 shots, so that might have been the case. However, the Aussies are regularly in contention for the medals at the Olympics and world championship and is currently No. 3 in the FIBA women's rankings, a full 10 spots ahead of Canada. It didn't matter. Canada pulled the upset, with Guelph native (and Notre Dame-bound) forward Natalie Achonwa matched her tender age with a sweet 16 points (Doug Smith noted recently she'll probably be joining the national team in a few weeks).

Six-foot-four Kayla Alexander also had a game-high 15 rebounds, as Canada went plus-6 on the boards against what was probably a bigger team. The pair of them also helped reduce Australia into a one-woman show. Their centre, tourney scoring leader Elizabeth Campage (who in the team picture is the middle of the back row, a head taller than anyone else) had half her team's points, scoring 26 along with 10 rebounds and five blocks, but getting her touches must have taken Australia out of its rhythm.

So much of international sport is about funding. Well, Canada beat China to get into the quarter-final, so this team has beat two countries which recently hosted the Summer Olympics.

Anyway, it's a simple point. A Canadian team being among the last four standing at a world junior championship is a semi-big deal. It sort of puts the lie to media-inculcated myth about being a hockey (only) country. There is clearly some burgeoning basketball talent, male and female, in this country. Some onus does fall on Canada Basketball to be able to scare up more sponsorship, of course, but the point is a sporting country worthwhile tries to give all of its athletes a fighting chance, rather than making a value judgement that the relative easy medals galore Winter Olympics matters more.

Anyway, great job by that Canadian team, including its three CIS players, one of whom, point guard Jenny Vaughan from the Western Mustangs, hit a three-pointer at the first-half buzzer to give Canada the lead after 20 and hit another with 3:13 left which put them ahead for good. The risk in saying this is to turn a group of teenaged athletes into a political football, but it's fair play when TSN, et al., do that every year during the Christmas holidays. One would hope this is not a tease, some triumph tinged with irony. Canada's junior men's national team was a respectable seventh at its worlds a few weeks back. Hopefully, some heads will start to turn toward a developing Canadian sports success story. Triumphs tinged with bitter irony are not too much fun, eh?


Dave said...

Couldn't agree more about how Canada says "to hell with competing in any truly global sport". And wait 'til these guys finally figure out that we're one of the only smatterings of people in the world who give a crap about hockey and realize we'd probably continue to do pretty well without funding that. With all the money they "save" (as if gov't isn't just a big Ponzi with the added bonus they can print "money" at will), they can buy more needles for addicts and other things we consciencious Canadians care about. I wonder if not funding the success and development of promising talent at the world level is somewhat out of spite. Since 99% of the people never attain their dream, we need to crush that 1% who MIGHT (despite how proud the 99%'ers are when a group of Canadian KD-eating kids defy the odds and find some success on the non-hockey world stage). That's a negative tone to start the day, but we gotta wake up and be proud again. Australia does it with 2/3 the population (even in sports like freestyle skiing of all things).....

Katie said...

This group of young women are poised to do what the young women playing for Canada Soccer did a few years ago... win on the global stage, and capture the pride of a nation. They have the talent and drive to do it.

Next Steps:
They just need the green light from Canada Basketball for the NEDA program (this is most crucial), and media support (kudos for you for bringing this team some attention!). By creating this kind of solid property, many visionary companies interested in sponsorships will come knocking, or at least be receptive when NEDA representatives come knocking with their info package (if anyone's looking for info now, contact coach Mark Walton at

Then, with the improved world rankings and tournament finishes sure to result (and public interest/pride), the government can once again be asked to consider more funding to sustain the program for a strong future. This is how I see it unfolding, in a near-perfect world. (In a perfect world, the government's sport/rec/culture/heritage funding would have covered such a crucial developmental program by now).