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The Junior Men's National Team Are Off to Latvia

These loose cannons are heading off to Latvia to begin their medal quest.
These loose cannons are heading off to Latvia to begin their medal quest.

With the Junior Men's National Team finishing off their warm up tournament in Lithuania, they now head to Latvia for the FIBA U19 World Junior Championship. Can Ball Ray caught up with head coach Greg Francis to talk about the team and what he expects for this summer ...

Greg Francis, when not heading up the duties at the University of Alberta, has been coaching the Junior Men's National Team for the last three summers. This summer, he's leading the talented young men to Latvia for the FIBA U19 World Championships. We caught up with him during the team's training camp sessions at the University of Toronto to talk about the JMNT, summer 2011 edition ...

Can Ball Ray: How does this team compare to those from the past summers?

Coach Francis: It’s funny, this is gonna be my third World Championships and I do a lot of comparison. You want to see not only the team but which players will have the mileage to play on the Senior Team one day. I think the state of basketball in this country, we have a lot of issues (with) kids playing or not playing but at the same time we’re in a good situation because is players like Myck (Kabongo), Kyle (Wiltjer), Khem (Birch), great players have to go their schools we still have a lot of talent in the gym. We have guys working hard and are committed. Now that our depth of talent is getting better, it really speaks well for some things we could do for basketball in this country.

Can Ball Ray: Do you see the holdovers from the previous summer as the leaders of this team?

Coach Francis: With the new format with Cadet Team now, we have a lot guys with international experience. I remember in 2007 we went to the worlds and guys were wide eyed. They had never played in Europe, they have never travelled. Now we have Cadet guys that have done the qualifier, they have done Cadets. This is their third FIBA sanctioned event that they’ve played already. They had success, they’ve had experience and then we have guys (from) last year that did the qualifying so we have two groups of guys that have gotten two groups of medals already before even getting to this competition. I think these guys are ready and I expect a lot from them.

Can Ball Ray: With that in mind, do you see this collective experience as a culmination of the move to a more European based amateur system for our National Program?

Coach Francis: Yeah. We have more talent but guys are getting that experience early and I think it’s gonna speak well for the results in the Juniors. By the time they get to Juniors guys now have experience. But where it’s going to really pay with us down the line, the Senior Team will have tens or hundreds of guys that will have international experience, international success so when it comes time to qualify for Olympics we’ll have guys that can say "I’ve qualified at the Junior level, I’ve won medals at the Juniors, we’re ready to go."

Can Ball Ray: Tell me what your expectations are for this particular group going into the FIBA U19 World Championships?

Coach Francis: I’m really excited about this group. I don’t talk to them about a lot about it but I think we have the guys will be successful in this tournament. I expect them to be more than competitive. I expect them to go after people whether we’re playing Lithuania, Croatia, (whoever). I think we have the guys that can go after them and (make them) have to match up with us. We have quickness, we have skills and we have some tough matchups whether you’re taking Sim Bhullar, Dishawn Pierre, Kevin Pangos and Olivier Hanlan. I expect our guys to do well.

Can Ball Ray: Tell me what you feel the team’s strengths are.

Coach Francis: We’ll have a good team IQ. I think this team shoots better than any team other team I’ve had going into the (World Championships) and we also have some intriguing forwards that will be tough match ups so we’ll be able to hit them in transition but I think we can also get the ball inside. We have some good pieces.

Can Ball Ray: What do you see as the one of the deficiencies for the team heading into Latvia?

Coach Francis: I think you always, with these young guys you have to get the defense going. If you’re team buys in, you’ll have some great results, if they don’t then it could be rough. I’m just trying to get these guys ready defensively. Offensively we’re going to be tough and on defense we’re going to have to build.

Can Ball Ray: Finally Coach, who do you see at the sleeper for the team?

Coach Francis: Stefan Jankovic. I think he has a lot of talent. I think for him it’s about being able to play hard and consistent with that effort. In terms of talent, he’s shown me a lot in camp and if he can put it together I think he’s going to be productive for us without the other teams knowing.

Can Ball Ray: Thanks for your time Coach Francis as always. Best of luck for the team in Latvia.

You can check out my preview of the Junior Men at European Prospects and remember that they start their run at a medal the FIBA U19 World Championship June 30 when they face Korea at 6:15 pm local time, 11:15 am EST. Be sure to check out Canada Basketball site for the game summaries and @CanBBall on Twitter for live tweets on the game. In the meantime, here are also a couple of stories that you can check out ...

CAN - Maple Leafs focused on reaching next round | FIBA.COM

CAN - Canada's Bhullar eager to play against Valanciunas | FIBA.COM