Disappointing loss another setback for Senior Men

Another summer of disappointment for our Senior Men’s team ended today as Canada somewhat-valiantly bowed out to a more experienced French side which simply had more play and shot makers down the stretch to win 83-74, pulling away midway through the fourth and surviving one final Canadian run very late.  Likely first ballot NBA Hall-of-Famer Tony Parker was magnificent when it counted for France with 25 points including a clutch 3 to get it back up to 8 with 5 minutes left and a game-sealing post-up “and 1″ with just under 3 minutes remaining to regain French momentum after a mini-run got Canada back to within 2 at 67-64.  Tournament MVP Nando DeColo had 11 of his 22 points in the first quarter and was a thorn in Canada’s side, especially in transition and to a lesser extent with his greasy off-the-ball tactics that culminated in an after-the-whistle shove of Canada’s Tristan Thompson followed quickly by a weasel-esque flop after Tristan stood up to him.  DeColo plays off Parker very well and his gritty effort epitomized France’s emotionally-charged win.

For a group without several supposed top-end rotation guys, Canada stayed in the game ostensibly again because of 6’2″ Cory Joseph, who had 10 first-quarter points of his own and finished with 20 on 9-13 shooting as France quickly determined Joseph was the only consistent Canadian who could create off the dribble.  Adjusting defensively by putting size on Joseph, Canada’s leader was not able to recreate his first half offensive heroics.  6’7″ Melvin Ejim again was an energizer offensively, making all 4 of his threes (Canada went 7 of 19 from downtown overall) – Ejim had a team-high 10 after halftime including at least 3 tough takes at the rim.  Illustrating Canada’s inability to consistently get in the lane, France shot 17 free throws (14-17) while Canada only 8 and only 3 in the first three quarters despite a very close foul count of France 18, Canada 17.

In the end, France had more shot makers when it counted:  5 different French players hit 3’s in the second half while Canada went 7 for 19 with only 3 made 3’s after the intermission, as well as the best player on the floor in Parker (with all due respect to our great leader Cory Joseph).

The Canadians jumped out early, pushing the tempo as 6’7″ Thomas Scrubb led an 11-2 run with his only three from the right wing and then a transition slam that gave Canada an early 5 point lead.  Canada led 20-15 late in the high scoring first quarter before a 15-3 run allowed France to build a 7 point lead – Canada turned it over 4 times during the run as the French exposed certain Canadian bigs in the ball screen game.  Later France rode a 12-2 run to a 48-38 lead early in the third – which included a buzzer beating pick-and-pop 3 by 6’8” Boris Diaw, again exposing poor big man ball screen “d” by Canada, but the resilient Canadians got it back to 5 as Ejim had back-to-back strong takes bringing Canada to within 5 as the third ended.  Canada got a 3 from 6’9″ Anthony Bennett that began their final run late in the fourth but Parker answered with an easy post up of 6’1″ Tyler Ennis to decide it once and for all.  Ennis played valiantly – it was said on social media that he had been battling the effects of a flu or virus – knocking down a 3 and getting to the rim as part of a 7 point second half, but was exposed defensively on the ball and by Parker on the post-up.

Canada’s pair of CIS alumni produced mix results as Thomas Scrubb was in my opinion sensational defensively in the first half with several deflections, stops and key rebounds.  His transition dunk energized Canada and some thought would bring him much-needed confidence offensively.  Unfortunately, Thomas went 0-5 for the remainder of the game including his next 3 3’s, two of which were solid looks.  Phil Scrubb showed signs of strong decision making in the quarter court during the few times he had responsibility for creating, finishing with 4 slick assists including a sweet dime to Ejim who finished with a slam.  But Scrubb simply could not get going from the perimeter, missing open looks and as the game progressed, his teammates appeared to lose some faith in him as at least a couple of times he was in position to receive a logical pass but was looked off.  Both Scrubb and 6’2″ Brady Heslip were unfortunately disappointing with their perimeter shooting after starting the summer strong in Europe.

Ennis did hit one wide open look from the right baseline in the third quarter but in general, struggled shaking his defender, drawing help and getting others involved.  While his apparent illness may have played a role, he remains an inconsistent perimeter shooter, does not have blow-by talent and, as importantly, can be a liability guarding the ball in some stretches.  We hope he uses the remainder of the summer to become a more consistent shooter which he will need to be if he hopes to garner major minutes in the League going forward.

Bennett hit a big 3 late and then was fouled on another 3 but in general, watching closely, it can be safely said that mentally he sometimes drifts.  As in the Senegal game, a defender he closed out on knocked down a buzzer-beating 3 with less than a second remaining on the shot clock as Bennett’s hands were down and the shooter had a step to find the rim.  Bennett also was attacked on the ball screen consistently, including the Diaw pick-and-pop 3 at the end of the first half.  Clearly, Bennett has worked on his fitness and body but in my opinion needs to dedicate himself to the defensive side of the ball (and battling on the glass – I don’t recall him having a single put-back in the entire tournament), much like Andrew Nicholson did after last summer and then through this past NBA season.

Some will ponder how a dedicated, loyal group of managers and coaches including Steve Nash, Rowan Barrett, Jay Triano and Dave Smart should be judged after another disappointing result.  Nash and Barrett were put in place with one of the promises being getting our best guys to play which was not the case this summer – difficult to place blame with them when Andrew Wiggins and Nik Stauskas choose not play despite being under contract when France’s Nicolas Batum arrives at the 11th hour just after signing his NBA contract.  But the fact is that coaching staff was not provided the most talented group that Canada could potentially offer.  While not having access to the locker room or many of the time outs during games, I can say with some measure of confidence that one contrasting element of our coaching staff as it compares with many of the other nations is the decided calm during timeouts Triano and staff exude with very little emotion spent toward the players.  Virtually all of our opponents had coaching staffs who wore their emotions on their sleeves and tried to transfer that positive energy to their players during breaks in the action, a trait more typical of European basketball than our professional coaches in North America.  It will be interesting to find out how, if it all, our management and coaching staffs evolve going forward with the new World Championship and Olympic qualifying formats changing from summer tournaments to in-season games.



Joseph, Ejim again lead Canada to win over scrappy Tall Blacks

Once again overcoming sluggish perimeter shooting and inconsistent ball screen “d” against a hot-shooting opponent, Canada produced a character 78-72 victory over New Zealand to advance to the championship game of the Manila OQT.  Once again, 6’2″ Cory Joseph produced a heroic effort, especially on the offensive end with several knifing takes to the rim at key points, finishing with a game-high 23 points, adding 5 rebounds and 4 assists.  Joseph simply has been the main reason why Canada has reached the championship game, logging big minutes, making the majority of decisions and even matching up defensively with a big (Tall Blacks burly Mika Vukona) when Canada went small.  6’7″ Melvin Ejim was clearly also instrumental in today’s win, coming off the bench for 5 immediate points in the first quarter when Canada started sluggishly and then capping another workmanlike effort with the game-clinching offensive rebound, put-back “and 1″ in the final minute to seal the deal.  Ejim is perfect wing forward in the international game, not backing down from any physical play and athletic enough to guard multiple positions.  His momentum-turning block on Thomas Abercrombie’s apparent breakaway dunk epitomized his effort and contribution.  Canada won despite another unconvincing 4 for 20 effort from downtown as both 6’3″ Phil Scrubb and 6’2″ Brady Heslip, Canada’s two main 3 point shooters in the pre-tournament games, have suddenly gone cold.  Canada also struggled from the free throw line going 14 for 25 – at one point Canada was just 8 for 17 from the stripe.  Ball screen defense continues to be an area of concern for Canada, which gave up 25 points in the first quarter.  Canada struggled guarding both Tai Webster (15 points) and older brother Corey Webster (21 points) both straight up guarding the ball and with the ball screen.  New Zealand shot 11 for 27 from 3.  6’7″ Anthony Bennett displayed some fine offensive finishes however it was not a coincidence that Canada gave up just 47 points in the final 3 quarters while Bennett played sparingly.  6’9″ Khem Birch, while playing only 10 minutes, was effective as a rim protector and finisher.  6’7″ Thomas Scrubb was only average defensively for Canada, holding down Abercrombie in the first half before being put on Corey Webster in the second half to mixed results.  Thomas Scrubb, after making his first 3, struggled with his perimeter shooting and overall finishing around the rim while brother Phil missed at least two wide open looks that at this level on this stage have to go down if he is to garner more minutes or a higher profile.  6’11” Tristan Thompson had another strong effort with an important late put-back “and 1″; he continues to contribute in the areas he thrives in, on the glass (10 boards, 5 offensive) and around the rim (13 points).  Thompson never needs to have plays run for him, presents an imposing physical paint-area presence at both ends and continues to play hard no matter what the circumstance – testaments to his loyalty and unselfishness.  6’2” Tyler Ennis continues to struggle offensively with his shooting – he was 0 for 3 from the line today and is 6 for 13 from the stripe over the first 3 games and has missed the only 3 point shot he has taken in the tournament.  He did have a couple of strong finishes in transition today however teams have scouted the fact that his perimeter shooting is questionable and defensively he gave up some blow bys.  Canada continues to scrap and with their likely opponent France, let’s hope that our shooters find the range tomorrow.  Go Canada !

6:30 AM ET start for Canada on Saturday vs. New Zealand

Canada gets a bit of a break playing the first game on Saturday which will be helpful if we do win, allowing us to live scout the France/Turkey game.  In New Zealand, Canada gets a quality opponent with which they have had prior international matches with.  The Tall Blacks gave up a fourth quarter lead to France earlier today after defeating an energetic home-supported Philippines team on Wednesday.  New Zealand looked to be in control today up 50-38 early in the fourth before the French turned it on, busting it open with a 22-2 run to lose 66-59.  Tall Blacks are led by their two wings, brothers Tai and Corey Webster.  Tai is entering his senior year at Nebraska where he scored just over 10 ppg last season in the Big 10.  Corey is in his late 20’s and played his college ball at a now-defunct NCAA D2 college:  Lambuth in Jackson, Tennessee; he now toils in the New Zealand professional league.  New Zealand is without arguably their top international player of recent times in 6’6″ Kirk Penney (Wisconsin), now 35 years old.  Corey Webster has averaged 31 minutes per game in the group games (22 ppg), while Tai averaged 28 mpg.  New Zealand is well represented up front with 6’8″ Isaac Fotu, who plays in the Spanish First Division after a strong career with NCAA Division 1 Hawaii Rainbows, where he was First Team All-Big West in his senior season 2013-14.  Fotu averaged 12.5 points/7.5 rebounds per game in 30 mpg in Group play.  Another key member of this group is 6’6″ Thomas Abercrombie, a 29-year old wing/three man who can stroke it; Abercrombie, who has averaged a team high 33 mpg, plays in the Turkish league and is a graduate of Washington State.  New Zealand shot 11 for 27 from downtown including 5 for 15 by Corey Webster as compared to just 9 for 29 from two point range.  This does not appear to be a very deep team with the four players mentioned (Webster brothers, Fotu and Abercrombie) taking 75% of the shots in the France game.  Look for 6’7″ Thomas Scrubb to play a key role defensively at the 3 spot for Canada and for our great stable of guards led by 6’2″ Cory Joseph to put pressure on the New Zealand back court.  Game time is set at 6:30 AM ET on TSN.


Canada escapes, advances to Manila OQT semi-final

In what was a grind-it-out, do-whatever-it-takes-to-win type of game, Canada was able muster enough offense plus some timely stops, overcoming a spotty overall rebounding effort to squeeze out a 58-55 win against a oozing-with-athleticism Senegal side playing without 6’11” Giorgei Dieng of the Minnesota Timberwolves.  Canada was able to defend Senegal’s final possession which turned out to be a somewhat-desperate look at 3 as the buzzer sounded.  Once again, 6’2″ Cory Joseph was key for Canada, especially down the stretch, finishing with 13 points and making 3 of 4 free throws in the final minute – he did miss the first of two with about 6 seconds remaining giving Senegal some life.  Joseph continues to read the ball screen very effectively however today’s game was difficult for any Canadian driving to the rim given Senegal’s stable of crazy athletic rim protectors.  Usually the ability to make shots can loosen up a packed in “d” however today Canada shot just 2 for 17 from beyond the arc including a collective 0 for 9 from usually dependent sharpshooters Brady Heslip and Phil Scrubb.  Heslip uncharacteristically went 0 for 7 including several wide open looks that are usually automatic.  Expect that Canada’s perimeter shooting woes today are an aberration and that Heslip and Co. will come out gunning in Saturday’s semi-final, likely to be against New Zealand.  Canada had all kinds of trouble scoring the ball from anywhere today and with no solid inside scorer who the ball can be dumped down to, creating off the dribble and making perimeter shots is essential.  The athletic Senegal guards did a great job of guarding the ball, keeping Joseph and 6’1″ Tyler Ennis in front of them, negating the need for consistent rotations and Senegal’s long front line was all over the offensive glass.  But Canada persevered, getting a decent effort from Ennis (12 points including a very important baseline scoop late in the game) and 6’7″ Melvin Ejim, who finished with 11 points and 8 rebounds including one of Canada’s two 3’s.  6’9″ Anthony Bennett (7 points, 7 rebounds) hit the other.  Canada got a nice contribution from veteran 6’9″ center Joel Anthony, who in retrospect had one of the bigger buckets of the game, a put-back just nanoseconds before the first half buzzer sounded.  Canada’s 6’7″ three-man Thomas Scrubb once again produced an under-rated effort with two important “o” boards that included a put-back and created a couple of loose balls.  While this game was a tad too athletic for him, he continues to do the little things that rarely show up in a box score (or are recognized by our partisan play-by-play crew).  Canada also struggled at the free throw line, going just 14 for 23 with Ennis and 6’11” Tristan Thompson going a combined 3 for 10.  Ennis, while handling effectively on the perimeter, still appears reluctant to knock shots down when defenders go under screens and Thompson simply is not a great finisher with his back to the basket but is clearly strong as an offensive rebounder and finisher at the end of dribble penetration.  Joseph is clearly the leader and most important player on this team and hopefully we will get to see a wonderful match up between him and France’s Tony Parker, assuming these referees don’t spoil things – these games continue with a shroud of mystery and perplexity surrounding virtually every call.  Canada will face off against the loser of tomorrow’s France/New Zealand game on Saturday.  Go Canada !

Captain Canada leads important win over Turkey

Quietly this summer’s version of the Senior Men’s team has developed a strong team character based on defending and rebounding.  While much has been made of the terrible free throw shooting by our opponents today – to correct an obvious erroneous comment from our ‘expert’ announcers on TSN, Turkey would not have been “in control” of this game had they made all their free throws – the fact remains that Canada’s team defensive effort guarding the ball, collapsing on Turkey’s size in the low post, closing out on shooters and finishing defensive possessions with rebounds was the main catalyst in today’s very important 77-69 win over Turkey that puts the Canadians in position to avoid a semi-final match-up with tournament favorite France.  And certainly another sterling offensive performance from 6’2″ Cory Joseph, especially in the third quarter when Canada extended to their largest lead of 17 points mid-way through the frame, was very important.  It is clear that the veteran N.B.A. guard is Canada’s leader and his decision-making and ability to read ball screens is as strong as it’s ever been in his career.  Joseph had a game-high 21 points and chipped in with 3 rebounds and 5 assists.  Fellow NBA star 6’11” Tristan Thompson added 10 including a sweet ally-oop dunk in the third quarter and was instrumental in defending the paint against the taller, lankier Turks.  Canada received outstanding performances from a pair of CIS alumni as 6’7″ Thomas Scrubb started and played 29 minutes, guarding the 3 spot and adding 9 points/6 rebounds.  His length defensively and decision-making prowess offensively were evident throughout and CIS fans will appreciate a third-quarter play where Scrubb ripped down a defensive board and then went coast-to-coast, finishing with a patented left handed floater, showing that he has gained a strong degree of confidence for playing at this level; reminding many of an international version of Tayshawn Prince.  Brother Phil Scrubb (10 points, 7 in the second half, 2-4 3’s, 5 rebounds, 2 assists) was strong down the stretch, finding 6’9″ Khem Birch for a sweet lay-in and knocking down a big 3 from the right baseline to give Canada a 13 point lead late in the game.  Canada received another under-rated effort from 6’7″ Melvin Ejim who was tough defending inside including a wicked block and knocked down a huge, in-rhythm 3 late in the third when Canada was facing a Turkey run.  This group has quietly emerged as a difficult team to play and hopes to build on their success against Senegal tomorrow, a team that will play without 6’11” Gorgui Dieng, another Minnesota Timberwolves player who has decided against playing for his country this summer.  Game time tomorrow is 6:30 AM ET.

Golden Hawks reload for post-Campbell era

Not only did the Laurier Golden Hawks lose to retirement one of the most successful and popular coaches of our era in Peter Campbell but new coach Justin Serresse must replace the 3rd all-time leading scorer in the program’s history in 6’1″ Will Coulthard.  Hawks also lost versatile veteran 6’3″ Garrison Thomas to graduation so there are plenty of top-end-of-the-rotation minutes available which Serresse and Associate Head Coach Jamie Campbell appear to have filled with a solid set of newcomers led by who the staff feels will be an instant rotation guy in 6’2″ Shamar Burrows, a member of the Bahamas national team who studied at Ridley College in St. Catharines.  Burrows already has a university body and the athletic lefty slasher has the explosiveness to finish strong in and around the rim.  Expect Burrows to effectively play off 6’3″ emerging sophomore guard Simon Mikre to become one of the more promising back court tandems in the OUA.  More back court help will arrive in 6’0″ Matt Minutillo, a tough combo guard from Brantford North Park who can fill in at the point or slide over to the wing as needed.  Minutillo adds an element of toughness and strength given his strong background as a multi-sport athlete including football and rugby.  With 6’8″ Matt Chesson solidly entrenched as the starting 5, the staff added a promising potential stretch 4 in 6’5″ Niroshan Surenderan from Thornlea S.S. where he played for one of the better young coaches in the high school ranks in Shane James.  The burly Surenderan has a wide frame and with work could become an effective post-up guy with his ability to pass out of the post.  Another potential combo forward who comes to Laurier from Vancouver is 6’6″ Nick Brody, presently long and slender.  Still just 17 years old, Brody will need to fill into his body and could be counted on for minutes as his career progresses.  The Golden Hawks remain in the running for at least one more back court player and combined with their 8 returnees, the program has been left by coach Campbell in a very solid state.