And Wearing the Red and White ...

Cory Joseph and Kelly Olynyk are young but are they key pieces to helping Canada get a top two finish at the FIBA Americas Championship this month? (Photo: Toronto Sun)

With the final rosters set, Canada's Senior Men's National Team is now a go for the FIBA Americas Championship happening at the end of the month.  Can Ball Ray puts his two cents in on the current team and what they look like ...

  

 

The Senior Men are not too far off from their FIBA Americas Championship and are tuning up for it by playing in the annual Tuto Marchand Tournament in Brazil.  Just this week the team had left for South America with a more slimmed down roster and the parts that boarded the plane look good.  There are some other parts that could have been used on the team but, be that as it may, they are not available for this go around.  With that in mind, let’s take a look at the players that will be reppin' the Red and White.  

 

In the backcourt we have vets to this team and international play Andy Rautins, Jermaine Anderson, Denham Brown, Carl English and newbie Cory Joseph.   In the frontcourt we have National Program stalwarts Jesse Young, Levon Kendall, Joel Anthony, Jevohn Shepherd, Aaron Doornekamp and Kelly Olynyk along with rookies Murphy Burnatowski, Alex Hartman and Jeffery Ferguson.  We have a nice mix of young and vets along with gunners, slashers and big bodies.  

 

But will this team of players work here for this tournament?

 

In my humble opinion I think in the present moment it can.  We’ve, and I personally, have seen them play against Belgium and though the wins weren’t blowouts (like I’m sure many were expecting) they were wins and the team looked to work well together in the schemes on both ends.  I guess the biggest judge of any sports team’s potential, to win or lose, is its roster and looking at the Senior Men there are some slight modifications made.  There were a few key things that were outstanding and I think that they were addressed to some degree this time around. 

Last summer the team had issues with the primary ball handling duties being put in the hands of two guys who are capable but were not 100% going into the Worlds.  Both Rautins and Anderson were injured before the tournament started and both played through the injuries and really couldn’t help anymore than they did.  This version a superior point guard in my opinion in Joseph, who is a key addition, and allows for both Rautins and Anderson to have some leeway in terms of bringing up the ball and allows for different looks on offense.  Not only that, the extra ball handler allows as an insurance for any injuries as well as allowing more rest for them as a whole to prevent any.  

 

Another key component will be the additions of vets Carl English and Jesse Young.  Both bring a very different aspect to the team that I thought was sorely lacking last summer with both players being hurt and unable to workout let alone travel with the team. 

English, whether you like him or not, brings scoring to the table.  On a team that lacks a definite go-to scorer like say a LeBron James, the team will score by committee again and English as a very option to have.  He’s well versed in the international game having been a EuroLeague pro and he can fill it up in a hurry from just about anywhere when given the green light.  This will be especially handy since last summer the team seemed to struggle from outside particularly when Young Rautins was rendered ineffective due to injury.  Having another outside option like English opens up the floor for everyone to operate.  Again, he may not be anyone’s first deep option but on a team with only one consistent deep range shooter in Rautins, increasing the long bombers from one to two is a definite improvement.

Jesse Young on the other hand brings the inside toughness that was also missing last summer.  Young is a big body that has been through the wars of international basketball and knows how to work the painted area.  On top of that, he’s a very vocal locker room guy who can keep the team in line and bolster its spirits when need be.  Anthony, Kendall are horses when it comes to the low block (and really very nice meaning almost polite players) but behind them there was only Olynyk, who is not really a true big but is a work in progress, and Rob Sacre who was often left holding the middle down alone with the smaller guys on the second unit.  Young comes with a streak of nasty that Pete Guarasci used to bring to the Senior Men in the late 80s and early 90s and isn't afraid to foul hard.  And if he could be seeing the twilight of his career not too far off, Young will give the team that much needed muscle in the middle that it needs to push though a close game. 

The other returning players such as Doornekamp, Shepherd, Kendall and Brown all fill big roles with their particular skill sets and play these roles very well.  They all are very capable international defenders and work relentlessly on both ends.  None of these guys will ever be the feature piece of their respective pro teams but with the National Team are very capable of having huge games that can ignite a rally or help seal a win. 

I'll be curious to see how Leo plans on using newcomers Hartman, Burnatowski and Ferguson.  The latter two are straight threes while the former is a very athletic and active four.  With the team travelling with fourteen players, two will have to sit out every game so expect that one of these three be in streetclothes for some of the time. 

My only true gripe with this team’s current roster is that it’s relatively small, again.  Last summer’s edition had four players who were 6’9" or taller and one of them was Olynyk.  That meant that the real inside banging fell on the shoulders of Anthony, Sacre and Kendall and when they were out of the game smaller guys were left to body up on bigger players (think 6'5" Olu Famutimi defending a Euro three type like an Andrea Bargnani, only mobile).  That left mismatches all over the place and with guys playing hurt, this became more of a liability as the tournament wore on.  This may be the same situation facing Canada with only one additional player over 6’9" to total five.  The teams that the Senior Men will be playing in their pool (Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic in particular) have traditionally had guys who were tall and big bodied who also had perimeter skill sets.  If the past is any indicator of the future, the offense and defense will likely look to utilize the speed and quickness the team has to help offset the size differential.  But this can be a little problematic if things such as hot shooting nights, turnovers or injuries start to be major game factors and as quickly as the team can be on the plus side they can be on the minus end.  If it ever comes down to a slugfest of a halfcourt game, Canada may have real problems. 

All in all, I think that this current team is a very good team, or to correct myself the best team that could be fielded at the moment.  Despite any injury or chemistry issues, Coach Leo and his staff have really managed to overachieve with the players that are available for the last few summers and this may be no different.  I think the depth of this team is better than last year but only when they tip off in Argentina will we truly know who good they can be. 

My Prediction:  Finish in the top five to move into the Olympic Qualifying tournament next summer.

*** Look for more commentary on the Senior Men's quest for an Olympic berth in the FIBA Americas Championships as the days come right here.  ***

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