The next major step in Canada’s return to men’s hoops prominence commences later this week.
Already buoyed by the return of Steve Nash to the organization, Canada Basketball is now set to field a tremendous squad at next month’s FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Brazil.
Toronto’s Andrew Wiggins, the most-heralded Canadian prospect ever and already the heavy favourite to be the No. 1 overall selection of the 2014 NBA draft, headlines the list of 22 youngsters who were invited to tryouts at Ryerson University starting on Friday.
The tournament takes place from June 16-20 and though Canada made the podium at the past two competitions featuring the likes of Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, Kevin Pangos, Myck Kabongo and Khem Birch, thanks to Wiggins and others, this looks to be an even more formidable group.
Canada will compete against Argentina, Colombia and Puerto Rico in Group B.
“This junior group is reflective of the excellent collective efforts of so many Canadian coaches, clubs and schools,” said junior team head coach Roy Rana in a release.
“As a result, we have one of deepest talent pools in recent memory. This has the makings to be a very special team and age group on our pathway to the senior men’s national team.”
Indeed, Wiggins is considered the future face of the senior team, while several other attendees should also play large roles going forward.
Wiggins, 17, was Virginia’s player of the year, starred at various tournaments such as the Nike Hoop Summit and is dominating the Elite Youth Basketball league this spring, leading Toronto-based CIA Bounce to a 14-0 record.
Wiggins has not played for Canada since 2010 in Germany, where he was excellent against the world’s top under-17 players despite being just 15 years old.
Seven members of the undefeated CIA Bounce squad will attempt to make the final cut, including point guard Tyler Ennis, who was New Jersey’s state player of the year this year and is being heavily recruited by a bevy of schools, including favourite Syracuse.
It has been difficult in the past for Canada to get its top young talent to commit to playing in international competitions, but the tide seems to be turning after bridge-building by people like Rana, CEO Wayne Parrish, assistant GM Rowan Barrett and former senior men’s head coach Leo Rautins.
The addition of Nash also certainly has helped as a two-time NBA MVP is bound to catch the attention of impressionable up-and-comers.
“To have someone of his popularity and his experience for the kids to look up to, someone like that who has been there and been through what they have gone through or are about to go through is outstanding,” CIA Bounce head coach Tony McIntyre, who is also Ennis’ father, told the Toronto Sun.
According to McIntyre, Canada Basketball is doing a better job than ever of understanding how to work around the busy summer schedules the top players are faced with.
At this age, the players are thinking about getting scholarships to NCAA schools by playing in front of college coaches in the summer, moreso than competing for Canada.
“AAU is vital now, college for a year is vital, we’re going to work closely with those people, try to be a resource for those people as well because they’re trying to help kids,” Nash said last week.
GET IT DONE
“We’ve been in close contact with Canada Basketball, confirmed McIntyre.
“It has always been a real big conflict for us sending guys away in the middle of AAU season when they needed it for recruiting vs. going and playing for the country, but this year it works out really well and Roy (Rana) has been really good making sure the dates don’t clash.
“He understands how important the recruiting period is for these kids and the exposure that they’re getting and that combined with playing for Team Canada and the exposure that they’re going to get there is just huge for Canada and those kids.”
Parrish agrees and wants to see the bond players have formed by competing on the same club teams spill over to the national teams.
“Those guys and our coaches have built and given those young guys experiences whether the cadet championship two years ago (in Germany where Wiggins and Canada won bronze) whether it be the Nike Hoop Summit (also coached by Rana), those experiences just grow,” Parrish said recently.
“It’s like the Spaniards, they don’t want to miss the summer hanging out. That’s what they’ve done for 10 years. That’s the culture we’re trying to create here. With Steve in the role here, he’s going to make that happen more quickly.”
So far so good.
As for how Canada will do in Brazil?
“With the people they can put together on that team, a medal is an absolute reality and a gold medal is not out of the question,” McIntyre said, pointing out how well his players have done at EYBL against those who will play for the favoured Americans this summer.
“They’re going to have their hands full, but they’re going to compete.”