It was all a dream …
On June 10 Canada Basketball announced the schedule for the Senior Men’s National team this summer with almost no fanfare. Very few media were in attendance that afternoon at the ACC, but among them was RaptorsHQ. The few of us that were there were given a glimpse into the basketball future of Canada and it all starts with a dream.
The summer road to the FIBA Americas qualifying tournament in August will be a long one for the 2K9 Road Warriors. A disappointing finish in last summer’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Athens saw the Men’s Team get blown out in the quarter finals to a Croatian team that featured current Raptor Roko Ukic. As a result, the team finished 6th. After having the Olympic dreams turn into a pipe dream, this year’s team is looking to begin on their path to redemption. The first stop for the group will be June 23-29 in Bilbao Spain where they will play exhibition games against some Spanish League teams as a tune up.
But this year’s version of the Road Warriors will be a little different: Different in approach, different in attitude and different in style. This season the National team will boast the addition of the Raptors’ VP and Assistant GM Maurizio Gherardini as well as seasoned Euroleague coach Renato Pasquali to help with a new European game philosophy to the staff.
The most important is a new commitment to the development of the young players in our country. The first phase of this summer’s Senior Men’s season was a seven day training camp held in Toronto at the ACC. Here Canada Basketball brought together some of the best of the country’s young talent to teach and evaluate, the goal being the identification of playesr playing in professional and collegiate ranks so as to develop them for our National Team program.
I got a chance to speak to Senior Men’s Coach Leo Rautins on the camp, his expectations and the outlook for the national basketball program.
Ray Bala: How do you feel about the direction of Canada Basketball is going into now?
Leo Rautins: Very positive. There are tremendous things happening within the organization, around the organization. Now it’s a question of putting the right programs together. We have great training and a competition schedule and now it’s a matter of accelerating the development of our players so we can get better on the floor which is where we want to get to.
RB: Are you seeing more interest from players this summer?
LR: We’re doing more things to encourage the interest (with the players). What can we offer players? We can put players in a position to enhance their careers by giving players exposure and for the younger players can develop getting great coaching and teaching. From those aspects players are seeing this as a wonderful opportunity creating a tremendous amount of interest.
RB: How do you feel about having Maurizio on board with the national team program?
LR: Honestly, I couldn’t put into words how much Maurizio has impacted the program. He’s given us a profile and much better direction. From training to scheduling to competitions and practices, he covers all the bases. We’ve been able to accomplish and prepare for this summer in many different ways because of him. He also carries a lot of clout with players so to have him in the mix is very attractive to a lot of players as well. To have him with us now is priceless.
RB: What are you looking forward to when it comes to this phase of the summer schedule?
LR: (For this camp we) want to develop players. First, we want to take younger players, guys just finishing school or first year pros in Europe and help with their development, give them tools and work with them. Second, we want to identify future Senior Team players and put them in a position to be a part and help the Senior Team down the road. Others we just want to get them involved with the National program in some capacity. Anyway you look at it it’s just a positive step forward for us.
RB: You had mentioned growing the pool of players for the National Program. Can you explain that more?
LR: The larger the pool, the better it is for the program. Ideally if you have about 25 players in the mix for your Senior Team with experience, by that meaning that have been involved in the National program. Not every player is available every summer; it’s unrealistic to expect that. Players that are in the pool are familiar with the program, familiar with each other and are ready to step in and assume the role of those not there. When you’ve reached that level then you’ve arrived. I can go back to the years Argentina was just an average team playing. They have turned a program into that and now we have to create a pool and environment to facilitate that.
RB: How do you identify the players at the camp?
LR: The camp is an invite situation. We have people we trust that scout across Canada, the NCAA, Europe and we try to determine the players we want identify and bring in. This camp not necessarily a tryout, but you can look at this trip (to Spain) as one.
RB: Are there any players that are not here who you would have liked to see at the camp?
LR: Of course. There are always logistical issues for the training camp like summer school for some. There are probably two or three guys we would have liked to have at the camp and you can plan it any way you want but some players will or will not be ready to go. There’s nothing you can really do but work around it as best you can.
RB: Thanks Leo and best of luck this year!