Canada has a lot to celebrate with four teams qualifying for World Championships next summer. (Andres Leighton, Associate Press)
After a disasterous summer in 2008, Canada Basketball had made improvements by leaps and bounds in 2009 on many levels culminating in both Men's and Women's Senior Teams qualifying for the World Championships in 2010. And it looks like the improvement will continue and this summer's successes should spill over into the future. The Can Ball Report gives a few thoughts on the Program's summer and what fans should expect next year.
The summer came and left in a real hurry in 2009. Just when everything and everybody was trying to get into a summer swing, it ended all too soon and all we have to show for it is a longing for a the sunshine and hot weather. But it was a very good summer. Well, it was a very good summer if you’re a Basketball Canada fan for sure. When most of their friends and family were enjoying what little of the season there was, a select group of men and women were in basketball summer school. This was probably one of the better summer sessions in recent memory and it looks to be a tip-of-the-iceberg situation where we are setting up for a bigger summer of 2010. So without further adieu, here is the Can Ball Report's Canada Basketball Summer Report Card.
There was some great success in the last four months for Canada Basketball. If you had forgotten or just don’t know here is what they accomplished.
Every team that Canada Basketball sent to a major FIBA event this summer had come out showing some success. All teams had that participated in qualifying tournaments had qualified for their FIBA events next summer, most notably both the Senior Men and the Senior Women who will be playing in their respective World Basketball Championship games. Not to be outdone the U16 Boys and Girls teams will both be playing in the U17 Championships next summer. The U19 Men and Women had good showings at the FIBA U19 Championships in New Zealand and Bangkok with the men placing sixth and the ladies placing fourth.
Now this is definitely a boon time for the National Team program for sure. It wasn’t too long ago that the teams Canada was sending to international events seemed to be coming back home after being fodder for the other national teams at all levels. Canada’s Men had failed to make the last two Olympics Games (we don’t need a reminder of the debacle that was last summer at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Greece) and the last World Championships. The Women shared a similar fate with the Olympics and placed tenth in the ’06 Worlds. We would need to go back a substantial block of time to find teams that have a legit shot at making serious noise at these international events so for now we should be happy in the rejuvenation of the program.
But how did Canada Basketball get to this point in a short amount of time? What caused this sudden shift to progression?
I’d like to say it’s because they have built better ballers in recent years through a renewed vision of what place Canada’s place should be on the world stage. After all the game was invented by a Canadian so it only makes sense that we honor his legacy right? Canada is a unique situation in that it is one of the few basketball playing countries where there is no domestic basketball league nor is there a feeder system like with the European club teams that provides a continuous pool of young players for the National Programs. The primary source of our talent comes from our players playing pro overseas and our collegiate and high school athletes playing on either side of the border. This may have created a situation where there was not a strong source of national pride in the younger kids playing the game that made them want to come out and represent their country (as you may recall Mr. Brown, Mr. Magloire to name a few).
But there was a big push to get all this improved of late. There was creation of a National Elite Development Academy that was run out of Hamilton until this season due to funding cuts meant that the program had to cease for at least now. There also was a revamping of the training of our potential National Team athletes where there were summer sessions made available whether there were events to play or not. And lastly this summer showed a new mindset where all the little parts of improvement were all synthesized under newly appointed Wayne Parrish in the front office and the consultation of international basketball heavyweight Maurizio Gheradini. With a little tweaking here and there, the National Program seems to have finally produced the results that most people who follow the National Teams knew: that Canada has the talent to be a force on the court at the world level.
So what will we have to look forward to for the coming summer?
Well I can say that we can expect a few surprises, that’s for sure. But don’t expect miracles just yet. Canada will not, in my mind at least, compete for any of the medals at this point particularly at the senior level. We may be a few years away from that at this point. But like I had said in my review of the Senior Men's qualification for Turkey last month, we should view this as a stepping stone to bigger things, for all levels. We have some very talented players that will be wearing the Red and White and in all honesty, them just being there at the events at this period in the shift is already a very big battle won.
Our best bets for podium spots in 2010 will be with the U17 teams where he have blossoming players and we should look at that as a good thing but really a medal at any level would be a bonus. In the grand scope of the global basketball landscape, Canada is learning to walk again so these teams are a good foundation for the time ahead.
We can also expect some of the players from the U19 possibly making a jump to the Senior Team as well. Crazy talent guys like Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, Manny Arop and Kelly Olynyk who have made major contibutions when on the floor could get some serious looks by Coach Leo and his staff when the summer rolls around. Don't be surprised if one of them is seen boarding the plane to Turkey.
So what grade does that give Canada Basketball for this summer?
What we will do is give Canada Basketball an A+ for their summer grade, period. As professional fans and uber critical observers, we often have blinders on and expect immediate success after mind numbing disappointments year in, year out almost like the LA Clipper Syndrome (sorry Clipper fans). We must remember that this is still a process and a long one at that. We have to take the baby steps as they come and like parents be proud of the small improvements before the child is running like Usain Bolt.
In my mind, there are three things that would have needed to be done by the National Program this summer to recapture the support of the population, both die hard and casual fan alike (read funding and media coverage as well) that swept the country in 2000 during the Sydney Olympics: Qualify for the World Championships, improve at the younger levels and have create a situation for continued improvement the following year. And I think all three have been achieved. The best part is that all three feed into each other. There has been success at the younger levels that will eventually feed into the senior level thus helping improve the program for the coming year. The improvements will come and before we know it Canada will be a team to knock off instead of one to knock out.
After last summer’s collapse with all the surrounding hype, how can you not give the program an A+?
For more info on the Canada Basketball and the National Programs check out www.basketball.ca.