The Junior Men's National Team begins their run for a medal at the FIBA Americas U18 Championships tomorrow. Is anyone excited for this event like I am?
As I've said earlier this week, this squad is possibly able to bring back a medal from Brazil and with the set of talented players can you argue with optimism. But before they can play for one, they need to get out of their pool ...
Canada is set in Group B of the tournament that features Columbia, Argentina and Puerto Rico. And this looks to be a tough set right off the bat and in my opinion the tougher of the two pools.
Columbia will likely put up a good fight but I suspect that Canada should be able to win this game comfortably. Now I say comfortably because 1) they are likely not as good both Argentina and Puerto Rico and 2) the FIBA site link for the event doesn't list the players just yet for each team. I'm going assume that Columbia will be the gimme game in comparison.
The real tests for Canada will be both Argentina and Puerto Rico.
Both teams have been showing strong on the men's side and they rank third and sixteenth respectively. That doesn't necessarily mean that the Junior Men's teams for both countries are equally as good but it should give an indicator as to what type of talent level there could be.
In Argentina, Canada can expect to be going up against young guys that have been playing against grown men in the domestic leagues. These players will be able to take the hits of a physical game and should show some quickness. The last time I remember watching the Argentinian team at this level, I was pretty impressed that the players were very capable of playing an incredibly quick run-and-gun type game with very quick backcourt players and lithe but mobile big men. If this edition of the U18 resembles that team then Canada will have their work cut out for them.
In Puerto Rico, the Junior Men will have to face a team that will have a big contingent of American high school players mixed with the PR kids. This means that they will be a tough out indeed. Again, basing on what I recall from the last U18 Americas event, I was impressed by PR's athleticism and overall size. Having the American born kids in their National Program system is definitely a bonus and make them pretty deadly on any given night. I suspect that this team will be the most even in terms of overall physical match ups with Canada. PR will not have as many kids playing in the domestic leagues as Argentina but they may have the uber athletic kids that are AAU stars and likely top NCAA targets. This will make them fun to watch for sure but quite possibly a team that could dominate or implode depending on the game.
Bear in mind people that my predictions are really based on memories of teams that played in San Antonio several years ago and the players from those teams are obviously not going to be present on the teams. I'm only projecting based on what has been available to that team historically speaking. Until the FIBA Americas site is updated with actual player rosters, I can't be sure of any of these predictions but one thing is clear, Canada will have the tools to compete with any team in the pool.
And at this point in the tournament, getting out of the pool is step one to the medals.
The Junior Men take on Puerto Rico at 4:00pm on Saturday, Columbia on Sunday at 8:00pm and then finish against Argentina on Monday at 4:00pm. All times are local.