In what was a near loss for Canada's Junior Men's National Team last night, they managed to pull off the 68-66 win over a tough Argentina team to claim the Bronze medal again in the FIBA Americas U18 Championship.
If the Argentinian team had made three more of their missed 12 free throws, this could have easily have been a loss for Canada. Both teams were evenly matched in the boxscore and there is no shame in bringing back a Bronze medal at an event like this one. The last two teams that Canada played were very good squads and respect has to be paid to them both.
But I think the biggest respect has to be paid to our Junior Men's National Team ...
The JMNT had some real individual talent on the team and getting players to mesh well in a very compacted time frame is not easy in the slightest. The credit to there has to go to the young men that committed to this team and the coaching staff that had found a way to have them play together and so well for this tournament.
And I feel that was the biggest obstacle that the team faced going into the tournament.
Every one of these players is a star in their own right. Andrew Wiggins, Trey Lyles, Tyler Ennis, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Kaza Keane, Duane Notice. From whatever team, or teams, they played on before playing these last few days, they are all very good and very highly thought of players. Just check their college choices or the amount or recruiting news you tend to hear about them. No matter what kind of person you are, there has to be some ego that seeps into your psyche with all that attention. These players being able to suck it up and play as a team was a big reason why they played they way they did.
Sure these kids probably play on the same AAU team or high school team or even all star team but it doesn't make it easier to play together like this once a year. I've been playing with the same friends off and on for years and I sometime am out of sync with them on the floor in large stretches before it begins to click. These kids managed to again play like pros through this tournament and we must salute them for that.
The expectations were pretty high I'm sure from the public, particularly from those of us who have been following the program and these particular players over the years. But is this Bronze medal a disappointment?
Of course not! And you're a fool if you think it is.
Our expectations for these kids doesn't mean that it helps them win games. It's just our projections of how we think they can perform. And don't get me wrong I had wanted for our boys to come back with the Gold but I am old enough to remember when our teams didn't didn't advance from pool play so I'm happy with the Bronze. Even thinking back to when two years ago, the Cadet Team that current JMNT coach Roy Rana was guiding through the various stages of FIBA play the progression is remarkable.
This may be a Bronze but it's a hard fought and deservedly earned Bronze.
That only means that this group of players, that is if they remain together for the FIBA U19 World Championships, has a shot of contending for a medal next summer. A year older, a year more developed and a year more confident in themselves as players goes a long way. This Bronze is just the prelude to what could happen next year at the Worlds.
And that, my friends, is where the Gold really matters.