Wednesday, July 08, 2009

A long, long overdue Canada Basketball post

It's all onward-and-upward with all things Canada basketball. Hearing that Canada's junior national team, skipped by Alberta Golden Bears coach Greg Francis, reached the quarter-finals of the FIBA U19 championship in Auckland, N.Z., after beating Argentina should bring forth some pride.

Canada got 20 points from combo guard Cory Joseph (who might end up playing for Rick Pitino at Louisville, although the Kansas Jayhawks come up a lot too) and 18 from Mangisto Arop, who's off to Gonzaga in a few weeks. The kicker is they will face Team USA in the quarter-final on Friday; if they had won by three more points, they would have come out ahead on point differential with Argentina and Spain and avoided the Americans.

That's not here nor there. People should be positive about Canadian hoops and the way Francis' charges have pulled it together down under after a 1-2 start is pretty encouraging. Like the coach himself said:
"Now we get to play in the quarter finals of a FIBA World Championship, and that’s a good thing for Canada."
Learned hoops chroniclers such as the Toronto Star's Doug Smith (who noted a while back, incidentally, that the Raptors are going to have training camp in Ottawa again) have said there are great things starting to happen with Canada Basketball, notwithstanding the loss of the National Elite Development Agency. It's a several years process, not an overnight success story.

Smith said several weeks back, "the junior team that could very well make some noise in New Zealand" is among some "hugely significant steps in the right direction" for Canadian hoops. Along with beating Argentina, Canada went down to the wire with Spain (which won by seven after Canada took the lead midway through the fourth quarter), Australia and Croatia, all respected basketball nations. In other words, some results are starting to bubble to the surface.

The fact that Joseph and big man Tristan Thompson, who have each been down in the U.S. for a couple years, are playing instead of spending their summers with a travel team sponsored by a shoe company is also a good sign. Seeing that Canada is assured of finishing in the top half of the draw (no worse than eighth out of 16 teams) is a good sign. It's not lead-off-Sportscentre sexy. Chances are, it barely rates a mention outside of the players' hometowns (Kamloops Daily News sports ed. Gregg Drinnan at Taking Note has been having regular e-mail exchanges with Canada forward Kelly Olynyk, by the way).

It is never going to be cupcakes and sprinkles for Canada Basketball. It is egg-on-the-face for this country (or it would be, if anyone had noticed) that as the Toronto Star reported, Cuba and China are helping foot the bill for the national women's team to make an exhibition tour this summer. Smith has also made some pointed remarks about the traditional media's unwillingness to deviate from the Hockey Reflex and maybe offering more balanced fare.
"... they are missing out on a great opportunity because they are myopic followers rather than media leaders. I always thought part of the responsibility we have is to lead and to educate, rather than simply regurgitate what's already been on highlight shows and the internet.

"I would think the pucks-centric men – and they are almost all middle-aged men – who run the broadcast outlets here would realize the hockey people are still going to watch and listen but if you want to expand your listener base or viewership, giving something to people they can’t get anywhere else might be a good idea."
Complaining about the lack of media attention for basketball is kind of passe. Footy fanatics have proved (here one thinks of The 24th Minute), you can do it on your own. The Raptors' radio voice, Paul Jones, popped off a while back about how knowing your game is rarely on the front burner builds character.
"I guess that's what makes us tough and has us persevere as basketball people. And please, don’t tell me about the antiquated ratings system because I’m not buying it.

"That discussion is for another time as I have never met anyone that has a "box" in the their house and there was no way they would bring a box into my old 'hood back in the day when you had at least 10-15 guys around a TV watching a game.
Anyway, getting back to the point, it is good to see a Canadian team stick with it and knock off Argentina. Granted, it probably would have been better to not be playing the U.S., but hey, you never know what might happen in a game between two teams of teenagers. Beating Argentina, having been in every game, those are triumphs nonetheless. Don't be cynical about this. That would be kind of Canadian.

Composed Canada move through (

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