After much anticipation of the Senior Men's National Team they finally took to the floor this past week in Vancouver and in Toronto for a few exhibition games. Canada won all three, in blow out fashion for two of them, and the team looked a lot better than previous summer editions. The Can Ball Report breaks down their first impressions of this 2010 version of the Road Warriors ...
As you may know, the Senior Men’s National Team has left Canada for Europe as of yesterday for a couple of tune up tournaments before the World Championships in Turkey. With the tournament only twelve days away, there are still some things to iron out I’m sure but they are leaving for these European tune ups on a very high note. Three wins will usually help provide boost. But before Canada takes the floor for the first tournament, The Can Ball Reports looks at the team and what impressions we got from the last week that was for the Senior Men.
So we start with the Senior Men having won their exhibition games; one against China in Vancouver and two against France in Toronto. There have been a lot made about China missing Yao Ming or France missing Tony Parker, Joakim Noah and Roddy Beaubois in those games and really, who cares. The point is that Canada beat these teams, pretty handily might I add. Let’s forget about the China game, just looking at the lineup that France had without the missing three players is still very good. You’re looking at Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw, Alexis Ajinca and Ian Mahinmi who are currently employed by NBA teams and Mickeal Gelabale who was not long ago. Nando De Colo is an NBA Draft selection Ali Traore and Edwin Jackson are potential NBA Draft prospects. With this selection of talent, Canada was still able to win by 11 in the first game and then 22 in the second. Regardless of what you have to say about France not having prep time, missing key guys, having an off night, Canada dropped them like a ex girlfriend and you can’t say anything to the contrary.
But how did that all happen? Three ways: Defense, a complete team effort and composure.
Canada put on a great defensive show in these last three games. Coach Rautins has said that one of the staples of Canada’s basketball identity is defense and he was not joking. Canada managed to hold China to 29.1% from the field (16 first half points might I add) and France to 34.4% on Thursday and then 39.1% on Friday. That is great in any pro league. The Senior Men a frenetic, swarming defence that helped to make it difficult to get off good shots early in the shot clock and made it equally hard to get a good shot in the half court set. You could see that the Canuck players were up on guys, in guys’ faces constantly and bumping everyone that would go through a screen or make a cut. Even the rotations were looking great, which can often be a problem with guys that to not play much together and often takes time to adjust to. Overall I was impressed by their defence in the three wins.
Now this swarming, virus like defence works into the next reason team played so well – total team effort. Without a "star" on the Senior National Team, Coach Leo has continually stated that this current team is about even down the bench. Without an exceptional talent, you are forced to play that way but as a fan you are also a little skeptical about what that says about the individual parts. But in this case, that may actually be true. When players would come into the game, there really wasn’t a drop off which is very good to see. The look and feel may be a different but the skill level is there.
Let’s take Thursday’s game for instance. The guys who finished the game on against France did not start the game. Jermaine Bucknor was the leading scorer for Canada and played only 11 minutes but there was even scoring from everyone who played outside of Buck. On D, when one guy came off, another equally capable player stepped in to take up the challenge, just ask Spurs Draftee Nando De Colo who was harassed by Olu Famutimi, Ryan Bell, Andy Rautins and Denham Brown through the game which led to eight turnovers for him and 1 of 6 from the three. Everybody on this team is accepting their role and playing it to the benefit of the team. There has been a great move in culture to a "We not Me" attitude that wasn’t necessarily there in the not so distant past and it’s finally reaping its rewards on the court.
The last thing that I saw this week that really impressed me was the team’s composure. I know that this is an overused term but its true here. We are always going to hark back to a lack of a star player on this team with losses but never when it wins. But to really win you need to have that composure more so than a star, even more so when vets Carl English and Jesse Young aren't suiting up this time around. This team showed that I think. When the Senior Men played China, Yi led a third quarter charge that led to a 27-24 spread that could have easily been a tide turning rally. But Canada settled down, locked up and put them away in the fourth quarter. The same thing happened against France Friday. France outscored Canada 20-13 in the third and was looking poised to swing the momentum but again Canada locked down and ran away with the game in the fourth to win it convincingly. This team has had to cope without the star player and this is a very big way they have. Maintaining their collective heads in situations that are least than favorable will give them that shot to win games that they might be able to or have no business winning.
Now don’t get me wrong, this team is far from perfect or finished for that matter. There are still some kinks to work out for the Senior Men and that is what they’ll have to do in these next few weeks. I think that these next two tournaments will be a better indication of their progress.