Despite a less than spectacular finish at the U19 Men's World Championships, head coach Greg Francis finds a silver lining. (Photo: Katelyn Peer)
The Can Ball Report spends a few minutes chatting with current University of Alberta men's basketball and Junior Men's National Team head coach Greg Francis ...
During the first phase of the Canadian Senior Men's Team at Ryerson University in Toronto, The Can Ball Report was granted access to the week long workouts before they embarked on their European training tour. Can Ball Ray was able to catch up with a few members of the Senior Program and those interviews will be posted here throughout the coming days as we head closer to the second training phase and later the FIBA Americas Championships in Argentina.
Today, we have Junior Men's National Team head coach Greg Francis on tap. If you don't know who he is well you need to stop Googling crossover and dunk highight reels and learn something 'cause we shouldn't have to tell you. After returning home from Latvia and the FIBA U19 Men's World Championships, we get an honest look at the results of the tournament and the only way to look at the end outcome.
Can Ball Ray: So Coach Francis, how was the Euro trip with the Junior Men to the U19 World Championships in Latvia?
Greg Francis: It’s was a great basketball experience. It’s a learning experience for the players, the coaches, everyone involved but at the same time I really liked the effort that our guys put up there. As a coach, I was striving to get better as well. We wanted better results but at the same time it wasn’t through lack of effort.
Can Ball Ray: Going into the tournament, was there anything that you were expecting outside of just putting out a great effort at these Worlds?
Greg Francis: To have a special tournament you need a couple of thing to happen. Maybe a great effort on the defensive end and I thought we weren’t great defensively but I thought there was some effort there. But what we probably needed to do was shoot the ball well to do well in that tournament and as a team we didn’t. Was it something that the coaching staff could have done differently, maybe, and then maybe some players shooting the ball to their level, I think we could have done better.
Can Ball Ray: You're playing games daily at high levels against teams with players that have largely playing pro for a good part of their lives. How do you think the team could have done better with that in mind.
Greg Francis: It’s a huge challenge being in that tournament. Every day is a completely different style (of play) when you’re going from Korea who’s going to shoot 60 threes to a Serbia that’s going to kill you with the pick and roll to a USA that’s going to be fastbreak. So the challenge is, as coaches we can see we’re going to need to change some things, we’re going to need to adjust but you can’t do too much because these are young guys. If you we try to tie up their brains saying we’re going to make a million adjustments, then they won’t be able to play their game. As we went along we realized that, yes, we can take one or two of these solid points to get to these guys but at the end of day you have to let guys play and let the chips fall where they may.
Can Ball Ray: With that insight, and the fact that some guys were hurt like Negus Webster-Chan who suffered a foot fracture during the tournament, how many guys were available to play by the end?
Greg Francis: By the end we were pretty slim but a lot of other teams had to deal with that as well. In reality, teams that do well in that tournament are very deep because you can’t depend on just the starting five because they can’t play all the time and you can’t depend on everyone being (healthy). By the end some of the forwards and most of our guards were able to stay healthy. Junior Lomomba had a hand injury. Dyshawn Pierre, here’s a 6’6" kid going up against 6’9", 6’10" forwards and he’s getting you double digit rebounds but his body is paying the price. Now the kid’s awesome and was productive but he’s playing through injuries every day. For kids at that age they’re working really hard to come through a lot of adversity so I wanted them not only just to win but you want them to feel the success because they worked hard enough that you want to see them shine more.
Can Ball Ray: From a purely fan or outsider standpoint, the results may look like a disappointment with the talented players that were on the roster but is the case? What can we, as observers, take away from what this team had gone through and put out there on the floor despite the results?
Greg Francis: Since I’ve been doing this for a while, I know it wasn’t very long ago when we would never even be in the World Championships so we’re getting there, we’re getting better. And then our challenge is to make sure we’re getting more players, which I think we have more players that can play at that level, but a couple of things have to happen: we need to keep these guys engaged, we have to keep them playing up until senior, we have to get guys playing in qualifiers and World Championships but the main thing is that we have to be there for any guys that are developing. Whether they play or not, Canada Basketball has to be there for players and I think guys are starting to notice it.
Can Ball Ray: There were some players that were absent from the team. Would these players have made that much more of an impact to the results?
Greg Francis: Without a doubt. You have, from guys that qualified (for this tournament), Myck Kabongo, Khem Birch, Kyle Wiltjer, Kevin Thomas. Guys like Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins who were on the cadet team. You have guys who we’re playing, for various reasons. To me the older guys who are going to university are trying to get acclimated to their school situations. So as Canada Basketball we can’t look at it as "we didn’t do good at the Worlds, our junior program is bad." What it is is that we have guys playing whether it’s in the qualifier, in the Junior (Championships) or both but we will have the top players in our country wearing the jersey at some point when their young and that will help them to do it when they are older. That’s my focus because, yeah, (the results from this World Championships) are disappointing. As a coach, you want to have all your guys. We’re just in a situation now where these kids are just so good that they are being pulled from a million different directions.
To me, especially when I have time to (step back from the event), when I’m in that situation I’m competitive, I want all our guys, I want to win and you’re thinking about the win. But at the end of the day you want to make sure that you’re developing players that will be on our Senior Team and going to the Olympics consistently and in the gym today you see a number of guys that were at the Worlds in 2009 – Kelly (Olynyk), Murphy (Burnatowski), Mangisto Arop – a number of guys that had just played Juniors that are already playing Seniors, that’s a measure of success which is way more important that doing well at a World Championship. If those (Junior) kids don’t get to the next level then it’s all for naught.
Can Ball Ray: Thanks for your time Coach. Best of luck with the Senior Men's team in Europe.
Be sure to follow the results of the Senior Men's trip at www.basketball.caor on Twitter @CanBBall and of course right here in The Can Ball Report.