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Lone Star Challenge

The line of jerseys at yesterday's session is something that every Canadian basketball fan needs to see to raise that red and white blood temperature.
The line of jerseys at yesterday's session is something that every Canadian basketball fan needs to see to raise that red and white blood temperature.

The Can Ball Report has been privy to be invited to the last training session of the Junior Men's National Team and we have our thoughts on the sessions and the team right here ...  


This morning, while most of you readers were either still in bed or just getting ready to leave for work, The Can Ball Report was at Kerr Gym on the campus of Ryerson University on a grey morning in Toronto.  What would possess me to be on campus at 8:45am when I don’t even go to the school? 


Basketball what else!  As if anything else could get a gym rat up that early. 


To be exact, it was the Junior Men National Team.  They were going through there last session before they were to begin their trip to San Antonio for the FIBA 2010 Americas Championships.  They did their final walk throughs and a few drills to get in that frame of mind for the challenge ahead. 


Being that The Can Ball Report has been lucky enough to be invited to events that the National Program has had over the last few years, we have been able to see these players in a closed door environment up close and personal.  I must say that this team looks really good but above that really loose.  The players are all serious about what they have to do but there is still a noticeable air of fun too. 


I like that!  These kids are about to begin part of their lives and it should be fun for them. 


I was talking with Coach Francis before the practice and after the questions that you would ask someone up this early (you know, "What are you doing up at this time?  Shouldn’t you be in bed still?  Are you awake yet?) we got to talking about the team.  I asked what he thought of the Junior Nats he’s working with and he says that there is a lot of talent.  Very true Coach.  I asked him about how he feels the team’s been gelling and he says well.  It looked that way in yesterday’s scrimmage and looking around the gym during the session, guys are joking, encouraging and playing like vets, a total team environment like something outta the 80s Lakers or Celtics.  Everything points to a solid team going into a tournament with the highest expectations of the any recent Canadian basketball team.  The squad looks poised to be making a whole lot of noise in the Lone Star State. 


So what is the biggest fear for Coach Francis?


Coach said that his biggest concern is that the majority of these kids, and despite how we treat them they are still kids, haven’t been exposed the kind of players they’ll see in San Antonio. 


But what does Coach Francis mean?  Aren’t these kids all top level players in the US?  Don’t these guys all have All America potential?  Don’t they play on the AAU against some of the best high school aged players in the world?  The answer to the last three questions are yes, yes to all of them.  So what does he mean?


These kids are heading into a whole new world.  Forget the Big Time Tournament in Las Vegas or any other major North American tournament.  We are talking international ball now.  These kids are playing in a different mindset, a different level of hungry and I agree with Coach on that point.  Outside of the kids from the States, these other kids are from countries where this tournament could determine their entire future, and very likely their families’ futures as well.  When you have nothing to lose, literally, you will claw, scrape and bowl your way to you goal.  Coach said that "they were going to meet a whole other of hungry, a different kind of ghetto player.  These are guys that will be willing to take your arm off for the ball but look like so unlikely to do so."  And that is the truth! 


Our Junior Nats will have a tough test for sure, but a necessary one.  For some of the young men, this is their first exposure on this level, and hopefully not their last.  But bear in mind that these types of tournaments are never cakewalks.  All of the players will be challenged on every play on both ends.  They will need to bring their top game on every possession and will test them like more so then any of the AAU tournaments they’ve played in to this point.  Can they rise to that challenge?


The Can Ball Report, meaning primarily me, feels that these players have a chance to make a big splash at the FIBA Americas Championship.  I also feel that they can rise to the challenge ahead.  There are those who have their reservations about this team.  Still others who have their doubts I’m sure.  But these young men will definitely be putting Canada on the map I think. 


Before they broke for the team bus heading to the airport, Coach Francis called everybody into a huddle.  Players, coaches, staff and he even called me into it too (because I was wearing a Canada Basketball jersey he said.  Thanks Coach!).  He had not parting words of what the players needed to do, nothing about what to look out for.  His only words for these young men were to enjoy the experience, have fun and bask in the game that has afforded them this opportunity.  And he’s absolutely right.  With the game being fun, the challenge should be easier to overcome.  Look out for this team that has a chance to get a piece of hardware because fun is infectious. 


Stay tuned here for The Can Ball Report's look at the Junior Men's Team throughout the FIBA Americas Qualifier in San Antonio.  And remember that you can check out the games live.  Find out how here