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FIBA U19 World Championship Preview: Canada

June 28th, 2011 · No Comments

After having won the Bronze Medal with the U17 team at the World Championships 2010, Canada comes to Latvia will smaller expectations as  a lot of their most talented players will miss this event. Ray Bala gave us his opinion about the team from Northern America.

Though there are some notable players missing, this version of the Canadian Junior Men’s National Team is still loaded with some very, very good players. Like the past, the team will be stocked with perimeter players but there will be a few matchup problems thanks to the a few inside/outside guys.

This team features the presence of eight returning members of last summer’s National Team programs, one NCAA player, three NCAA signees, three top 100 US high school players as well as two top Canadian university players that includes the league’s rookie of the year making this among the best Canada has fielded at this competition in a long time.

The biggest addition, literally, is the mammoth Sim Bhullar. He stands 7’5” and has improved greatly over his last year while at Huntington Prep in the US. Having recently committed to play for Xavier University for the 2012-11 season he will be the tallest player at the Tournament hands down and will likely cause a myriad of matchup issues for any team. He has very good hands and is going to be hard to move off the block.

Bhullar will be accompanied by his two Huntington Prep teammates Stefan Jankovic and Negus Webster-Chan. Webster-Chan, who is moving up from the Cadet Men’s National Team, is a 6’7” wing player while Jankovic is a 6’10” forward who is as comfortable in the key as he is around 3-PT range. Both, Bhullar, are ranked amongst the best high school players in the North America and can play inside or out. Their length on defense and advanced offensive skill sets will be tough to counter for any team.

Also moving up from the Cadets is lead guard Kevin Pangos. The heavily recruited floor general has been representing Canada at the international level for several years and his leadership both on and off the court will be valuable along with his long range shooting and playmaking ability. Pangos, who was named top point guard at the last summer’s FIBA U17 World Championship, will be taking his game to Gonzaga University in September and should be among the better guards in the tournament.

Outside of this quartet, two players to keep a particularly close eye on will be Phil Scrubb and Braxston Bunce. Both these players hail from the same western province in Canada, British Columbia, and will likely surprise teams if taken too lightly. Scrubb had spurned NCAA scholarships to stay in Canada to play at Canadian Interuniversity Sport powerhouse Carleton University. He was the CIS Rookie of the Year and is a dead eye shooter from the outside. Bunce, though the youngest on the team, is a big kid at 6’11” and will likely be on the floor when Bhullar is off. He is still new to the international game but has very good hands and is mobile for a guy of his size. This could be his baptism of fire so to speak and he should be up for the challenge.

I had the chance to talk with Head Coach Greg Francis last week before the team left for the Youth International Global Games in Lithuania and he mentioned that this team has a lot of chemistry for having been together for such a short time. That should bode well for them indeed. They were together for a total of four days training in Toronto before they had left for Europe since some players had come late due to various events they were attending across North America but with the bulk of this team made up of players from last summer’s Cadet Team it’s no surprise chemistry is good.

It was originally thought that several high profile players would be playing with this team but will not for various reasons. Three members from last season’s Junior Men’s National Team, Myck Kabongo, Kyle Wiltjer and Khem Birch, who were all named McDonald’s All Americans as among the top 20 high school players in the US are all currently fulfilling commitments to their respective colleges. Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins, two players that were thought to be playing for Canada at this level this summer, will not due to other commitments and would have been very big contributors but without them Canada should still be formidable.

This team will have the luxury this time around of better overall size going into tournament. In the past, Canadian teams have relied heavily on guard play and little interior help but that will not be the case this summer. The team will have lots of length and quickness and that may be their calling card for this tournament. Regardless, this team has enough components to put a very good run together in Latvia. With a very good mix of seasoned international veterans and overall basketball skills, Canada will be poised to be a serious contender for the podium this time around. Some of the players on the team have tasted success on the Cadet level having won a Bronze medal at the FIBA U17 World Championship in 2010 and you can bet that they are eager to experience that same success this summer also.

Ray Bala is a freelance journalist from Toronto who covers all things Canadian basketball.  Ray’s work can be found on The Can Ball Report on www.raptorshq.com as well as in various media outlets such as SLAM Magazine and www.SLAMonline.com.

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