In another “Venezuela-esque” disappointment for our national basketball program, Turkey used a dominant effort on the glass and generally showed a much higher overall compete level and passion to defeat Canada 80-74 this morning in Spain at the U-17 World Championships. With the loss, Canada can finish no higher than 5th spot. The Turks had numerous second-chances with 23 offensive rebounds, out-rebounding Canada 67-40. More than that, Turkey seemed to get every 50/50 ball and showed much more emotion, despite having to come back from a fourth quarter deficit.
Turkey’s 6’9″ center Ahmet Duran dominated his match-up with Canada’s 6’9″ Simi Shittu as the burly center finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds while Shittu shot just 1 for 11 and had only 7 boards. But the real difference maker for Turkey was unheralded 6’11” Ragip Atar, who scorched Canada for 28 points and 15 rebounds including 7 offensive rebounds, many of which were momentum changing after stellar Canadian half-court “d” produced late shot clock attempts created rebounds that Canada collectively simply got out-competed on.
Canada’s 6’7″ wing Danilo Djuricic came out of the gate strong offensively with 14 first-half points but finished with just 19 – hitting 5 of his 8 threes as Canada shot just 10 for 29 from downtown. 6’5″ R.J. Barrett did finish with 33 points to lead all scorers but was just 10 for 19 from the foul line, part of a terrible 14 for 28 foul line effort for Canada. Barrett had only 2 rebounds in the entire game. Canada also struggled to finish around the rim, missing at least a dozen wide-open layups – my guess is that Shittu’s 10 misses all came within 4 feet of the rim – and this lack of finishing also strongly contributed to the loss.
This was another wholly disappointing result for Canadian basketball and is in my opinion indicative of the comparative lack of passion for team and country our players generally have exhibited throughout the years, where in most cases the higher profile players tend to be more conscious of self rather than team. This showed today against an energetic, fiery Turkish side willing to do almost anything for their flag. Too many times today when facing adversity and a big offensive possession required finding the right shot, things broke down into a 1-on-everyone scenario and the decisiveness with which the less athletic but harder-playing Turks won the battles for loose balls and rebounds are a testament to their emotional, mental and thus physical dominance.
Focus now turns to the Senior men’s team who appear to have assembled a group of dedicated participants who thus far have showed a commitment to defending and rebounding and an unselfishness offensively that could lead to some surprises in Manila, where many are forecasting a Turkey/France championship final. One thing I am comfortable predicting is that this group will play hard with team at the forefront and that we’ve seen the last of a senior men’s team with a so-called star holding his shorts for an entire defensive possession or same “star” getting a rebound ripped out of his hands and watching the opponent make a lay-up without any response. Go Canada !
Canada enters the FIBA U-17 version of the “Elite Eight” tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM ET, drawing arguably their toughest opponent to date in Turkey. With only one loss thus far in the tournament – an 18 point setback at the hands of top-rated USA – the Turks have a blend of length on the perimeter and a formidable presence inside in 6’9″ Ahmet Duran (#14). Turkey also had a tremendous comeback on the first day of group play, coming from 20 down early to defeat Egypt by 10. Egypt then lost by 15 to Lithuania in the Round of 16 while Turkey advanced to the quarter-finals with an 18 point win over Mali, the West African nation.
Turkey was able to hang with the United States until about mid-way through the second quarter when the Americans took advantage of the young Turkish guards and a lack of quality depth, applying full court pressure on young (born 2000) 6’2″ pg Eray Akyuz (#4), creating numerous turnovers and easy scores. Three other players to watch on Turkey are #10 6’6″ Onyralp Bitim, who is an aggressive slasher who attacks off the bounce and is physical getting to the rim – he could be Turkey’s toughest player – 6’4″ Mert Konuk (#12), an effective catch-and-shoot 3 point threat and athletic 6’5″ Muhaymim Mustafa (#13), who comes off the bench with 8.5 ppg/ 4 rpg stats for the tournament. Mustafa is one of the few Turks who may be able to compete athletically with Canada. Duran is a big, strong, aggressive post player with reasonable nimble feet and range out to the three point line; he is Turkey’s best rebounder (8.5 ppg/11.8 rebounds per game including 19 boards vs. Mali). Expect Duran to get physical with 6’9″ Simi Shittu but have a tough time getting up and down the floor and compete on the offensive glass with the more fluid Canadian center.
The Americans used their superior athleticism to get easy scores in transition (created 23 turnovers) and attack the offensive glass (USA had 20 “o” boards in their win). Turkey will have to also improve their transition defense to stall Canada. Look for the old Tex Winter/Phil Jackson triangle offense in some possessions with Duran in the mid post making decisions. Defensively, the Turks employ combinations of man “d” and 2/3 tandem guarding the elbow.
Expect Coach Dave DeAveiro to shorten the bench if the game remains reasonably tight into the middle and latter parts of the affair. In 6’5″ R.J. Barrett and Shittu, Canada probably has the two best players in the game and 6’7″ Danilo Djuricic, when right, is probably the best pure shooter maybe in the tournament. Canada should go a long way with 6’3″ Andrew Nembhard at the point and 6’7″ Iggy Brazdeikis on the wing. Expect 6’7″ Emmanuel Akot to see considerable time on the wing off the bench and 6’2″ Stefan Smith plus possibly 5’9″ Daniel Sackey to spell Nembhard. Canada could be even stronger and deeper if the recent improved play of 6’4″ Noah Kirkwood continues. After a slow start to the summer, the multi-talented wing is moving back to contributing his strong on-the-ball “d”, taking charges, retrieving 50/50 loose balls, rebounding and finishing when the offense comes to him. A return to the Kirkwood we saw last summer: starter and 25-30 minute a game player, would be another solid addition to the top end of the rotation.
Game time tomorrow morning is 7:30 AM ET.
Canada’s Sr. Men’s team blew a 14 point third-quarter lead but 6’6″ Melvin Ejim knocked in a pair of consecutive scores with about 5 minutes remaining in the fourth to give Canada the lead for good in a character 97-91 win over Puerto Rico in Biella, Italy as their pre-OQT tour of Europe ended. Canada finishes their friendlies schedule at 4-1 and now flies east (through Istanbul, Turkey) to Manila for the OQT which begins this coming Tuesday, July 5th vs. Turkey. The Puerto Ricans, coming off a win in the Central America championship over the weekend, next meet Italy in a friendly before their respective Olympic qualifying tournament begins next week in Milan. Canada shot a sizzling 13 for 26 from the 3 point line for the game and appeared to have things well in control, leading 75-61 in the third, using a 46-30 run after the first quarter. But NBA veteran Carlos Arroyo began getting to the rim and his basket with 5:24 remaining in the fourth put Puerto Rico up 80-79, capping a 12-2 run.
But Ejim (22 points, 13 rebounds including 3 3’s) took over giving Canada the lead for good with his pair of clutch hoops. Puerto Rico made one final run as J.J. Barea (12 points) knocked down and 3 and was fouled in the act and with the ensuing free throw drew his team to within 1 at 92-91 with under a minute to play. But 6’2″ Cory Joseph nailed a bucket and, after a Puerto Rican turnover, 6’2″ Brady Heslip (20 points) knocked down his fourth triple of the game that sealed the Canadian victory. 6’2″ Phil Scrubb also had 3 3’s in the game for Canada, which also dominated in second-chance points 18-6. 6’8″ Renaldo Balkman added 16 points for Puerto Rico, including 8 in the first-quarter after which Canada trailed 31-29. Canada cleaned things up on the defensive end through the middle part of the game, allowing only 30 points in a 17 minute stretch bridging the second and third quarters.
Given the positive news that 6’11” Tristan Thompson will suit up for Canada for next week’s Manila OQT, Coach Jay Triano and staff needed to make one roster adjustment and unfortunately 7’5″ Sim Bhullar is the odd man out. Bhullar, who played well for Canada off the bench during last summer’s Pan-Am games but saw limited action this summer during the Senior team’s European tour – which closes today with a game against Puerto Rico – and will not be part of the OQT roster. This means that 6’10” veteran Levon Kendall will remain with the group as the staff decided that international experience was more important than promising potential for this tournament. There was also some talk that 6’4″ Jamal Murray, first round pick (7th overall) of the Denver Nuggets, may be available however the Nuggets are very likely to ask Murray to play for their Las Vegas summer league team that begins play on 6th July. Thus the probability is low that Murray will be available next week. However if Canada were to qualify for Rio, the possibility then opens up for Murray to join the team.
Canada’s 12 man roster:
Cory Joseph, Tyler Ennis, Phil Scrubb, Brady Heslip, Thomas Scrubb, Melvin Ejim, Anthony Bennett, Khem Birch, Tristan Thompson, Levon Kendall, Joel Anthony, Shai Alexander
We are pleased to report that 6’11” Tristan Thompson, one of the main contributors to Cleveland’s recent NBA championship, has officially committed to play for Canada at the Manila Olympic qualifying tournament. This is tremendous news for the program and shows the loyalty Tristan has always had to play for his country just days after a long, physically demanding NBA playoff season – others who have chosen not to play should take notice from someone who now has an NBA championship ring as opposed to those who toil on teams with sub-.500 records. With the recent additions of 6’2″ Cory Joseph and 6’9″ Joel Anthony, Canada will have to make one more roster move, likely involving either 7’5″ Sim Bhullar or 6’10” Levon Kendall. At this time, no official decision has been made on the final roster spot as Canada prepares to meet Puerto Rico tomorrow in Italy.
Good on Doug Smith of Toronto Star for chiming in on the Thompson decision on his blog:
“Tristan Thompson has done the right thing and is headed off to Manila to meet Canada’s senior men’s team for the last-ditch Olympic basketball qualifier.
Solid move that shows an impressive commitment to the program that’s still in tough to make it to Rio but the chances are better now.
Talking to Jay electronically earlier today, he’s quite happy to have Cory Joseph and Joel Anthony joining the team in Italy today for a final exhibition game against Puerto Rico tomorrow before they head to Philippines on Thursday and quite excited that Thompson will meet them there.
He understands the time pressure – “Have to get everyone acclimatized and up to date really quick,” he said – but there is a far greater sense of optimism.
For Thompson, I think he should be lauded for making the trip. Yeah, it was a long hard season with Cleveland and I’m sure some people would have given him a pass if he extended his post-season vacation a few more weeks.
But I have the utmost respect for athletes who feel compelled to help their country if they can – unlike Andrew Wiggins and Nik Stauskas who bailed and let the program down facing long odds after failing last summer – and Thompson showed me something with this decision.”
Unleashing full-court pressure that created numerous turnovers and turning it up on the defensive end, Canada used a 22-0 run bridging the third and fourth quarters to hammer Dominican Republic 79-52 to advance to Thursday’s quarter-finals at the FIBA U-17 World championships in Spain. Canada started sluggishly, missing their first 12 3’s of the game and shot under 25% in the first half which resulted in an early 19-12 Dominican lead. But Canada finished the first half on a 17-5 run and then used defensive pressure that led to easy scores to extend to a comfortable lead. The big run included 3 different Canadians taking charges on out-of-control drives by the Dominicans to the rim. With Canada leading 35-32 early in the third, the Canadians began to dominate on the glass and then 6’5″ R.J. Barrett ignited the action with a breakaway slam that gave Canada an 11 point lead, part of the 11-0 run to end the third. Canada continued with the full court pressure to start the fourth and scored the first 11 points of the frame to lead 68-39 and Coach Dave DeAveiro then emptied the bench with about 7 minutes remaining. Once again 6’7″ Emmanuel Akot (11 points) continues to impress with his athleticism that allows him to dominate most opponents defensively and his wonderful open court skills. Akot, along with 6’4″ Noah Kirkwood, 6’3″ Andrew Nembhard, 6’1″ Stefan Smith and 6’7″ Danilo Djuricic were the catalysts for much of the game-deciding 22-0 run that sealed the win. 6’7″ Ignas Brazdeikis led Canada with 15 points and 10 rebounds while Barrett added 14 and 6’9″ Simi Shittu had 13 points/11 rebounds including 7 on the offensive glass as Canada had 22 “o” boards and outrebounded DR 63-50. Canada now faces Turkey on Thursday in the quarter-final (Turkey was leading Mali by over 20 late in the 4th quarter of their game). Canada will have to improve their perimeter shooting (just 3-22 from 3 point land and 18-40 from the free throw line).
Beginning with tomorrow’s game vs. Dominican Republic (10:00 AM ET start) in the Round of 16, there is no more margin for error for Canada at the FIBA U-17 World Championships in Spain. If the old adage that over the course of a long tournament, even a very good team like Canada will experience one tough day, observers can point to the opening game of the tournament vs. Australia – a game in which the Canadians needed lock-down “d” in the final 4 minutes and some clutch, high-end offensive performances including the winning “and 1″ from 6’5″ R.J. Barrett – as the one that Canada got out of their system. In Canada’s defense, the Australia game was the first for both 6’9″ Simi Shittu and 6’5” R.J. Barrett with Barrett joining the team just about 48 hours prior to the opener.
What has been noticeable since that Australia game is Canada’s collective work on the defensive side of the ball, first of all being much better at guarding the ball and thus limiting the need for rotations. Just as importantly is how well Canada is able to run the floor and impart their superior athleticism on their opponents.
In the Dominican Republic (0-3 with losses to Bosnia, Korea and France by 30), Canada gets an opponent they are familiar with after decisively handling DR in the semi-finals of last summer’s FIBA Americas tournament. Canada turned an early 18 point lead into 30 mid way through the third quarter en route to a 95-49 pasting in which all 12 Canadians played at least 10 minutes. In that game, Canada held Dominican’s to just 1 for 20 shooting from 3 and dominated the glass 58-24 including 22 offensive rebounds as our size and athleticism shone.
Without looking too far ahead, if Canada is able to handle DR, the team will get another off-day on Wednesday in preparation for their quarter-final game vs. the winner of Turkey/Mali to be played at the same time tomorrow as Canada’s game. By the way, Mali is a land-locked west African country, with French as the official language. Turkey finished 2-1 in their group with their only loss by 18 to the #1 ranked U.S.A. while Mali went 1-2 with their victory over the disappointing Argentine’s who went winless in the preliminary group round. As previously mentioned, the bracket is set up such that Canada’s opponents in the semi-final could be Spain and with the U.S.A. in the finals.
It will be an early rise for Canadian basketball fans next Tuesday and Wednesday morning – breakfast in Manila so to speak – as our Senior men begin their quest for qualification for the Rio Olympic games with the Olympic qualifying tournament in the Philippines. We are happy to report that the TSN network will air both of Canada’s Group A games as well as the corresponding Group B game on the days that Canada plays. Specifically, according to on-line listings, TSN2 will show Canada’s opening game on Tuesday, July 5th beginning at 6:30 AM ET; that game will be followed by France and the host Philippines. Most believe France is the team to beat in this tournament and as Canada’s Head Scout Joe Raso has reported, the French, despite missing some key players, have had Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, Nicolas Batum and Nando DeColo in the lineup for their pre-tournament games. The following morning Wednesday July 6th also at 6:30 AM ET, Canada will face Senegal, in a game that will be broadcast on TSN4. A pair of wins are likely required for the Canadians to avoid France in the semi-final on Saturday (Canada gets an off-day on Thursday and then the entire field gets a rest day on Friday prior to the championship semi-finals on Saturday and championship game on Sunday). It is not known whether or not announcers will travel to Manila or do play-by-play and color in the studio while watching on a screen. Last summer in Mexico, Rod Black and Leo Rautins did the early games from the studio and Black was later replaced by one of the finer basketball play-by-play men in the world, Canadian Dan Shulman. Coach Jack Armstrong also should have a role to play in these games. For those who have been following the Sr. Men’s team thus far, observers are cautiously optimistic in the progress of the group, currently with a 3-1 record pending Wednesday’s game in Italy against Puerto Rico. By all accounts, Canada is defending, spacing the floor and sharing the ball offensively and will get an injection of top-end talent as 6’2″ Cory Joseph returns to the team. As well, 6’9″ Joel Anthony will suit up after the birth of a newborn very legitimately kept him away. Observers still hold out hope for the arrival of 6’11” Tristan Thompson – his Cleveland Cavaliers teammate Kyrie Irving recently committed to playing for his home U.S.A. this summer. There is also some whispers that Jamal Murray, the wonder-kid from Kitchener who was drafted #7 overall in last week’s N.B.A. draft and who has played each and every summer for Canada going back at least 4 years, sometimes when physically exhausted – no one questions Murray’s loyalty – could also be available pending what is expected of him with the Denver Nuggets. The first game is one week away next Tuesday morning with Canada leaving Italy on Thursday, flying through Istanbul en route to the Philippines and their date with Turkey on the 5th.
Congratulations to 6’10” All-Canadian Josh Wolfram of Thompson Rivers who signed with a Swedish Division 1 team recently. Wolfram is being represented by Toronto-area agent Matt Slann who has been growing his business and now has placed numerous ex-CIS men and women in Europe and other parts of the world. Wolfram, who played high school basketball with Boston Celtics Kelly Olynyk, brings a solid inside-out skill set to his new team which finished dead last in the Swedish First Division this past season. Wolfram has experience playing for Canada at the World University Games also.
News Kamloops has a great piece on Wolfram and his move to Europe: TRU’s Josh Wolfram signed to Swedish team
Canada’s final tune-up for the Manila OQT tournament goes this coming Wednesday, June 29th at 2:30 PM ET in Biella, Italy (west of Milan, north of Turino) against FIBA Americas rival Puerto Rico – no word yet on where the game might be available on-line although finding these is not a strength of mine. Puerto Rico is also involved in the Olympic qualifiers as part of the tournament in Italy and come off a victory yesterday in the Gold Medal game of the 2016 Centrobasket Championship in Panama City, Panama, defeating Mexico 84-83 in a thriller after blowing an 18-point lead in the second quarter. Puerto Rico’s Ricky Sanchez hit a three-pointer that sealed the deal and won the gold medal. J.J. Barea was named MVP of the competition after another complete performance for Puerto Rico. The point guard ended up with 17 points, 9 assists and 3 steals in the win. Puerto Rico won the gold medal, their tournament–leading 11th in the history of the competition and now travel to Italy to begin preparations for the OQT, starting with Wednesday’s date with Canada. Note that Canada has tweaked their roster somewhat with the re-addition of 6’2″ Cory Joseph, expected to play on Wednesday and 6’9″ Joel Anthony, who re-joins the club after the arrival of his newborn, bringing Canada’s roster back to 12. Note that 6’6″ Dyshawn Pierre is the odd-man out from Canada’s roster which now looks like this:
POINT GUARDS: Cory Joseph, Tyler Ennis
SHOOTING GUARDS: Phil Scrubb, Brady Heslip
WING FORWARDS: Thomas Scrubb, Melvin Ejim, Shai Alexander
POWER FORWARDS/CENTERS: Anthony Bennett, Khem Birch, Levon Kendall, Sim Bhullar, Joel Anthony.
Most are still awaiting word on whether or not Tristan Thompson will be available after his incredible run to the N.B.A. championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Go Canada !