By RON FANFAIR
Canada received a favourable draw for the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Americas championship this summer that will serve as a 2012 London Olympics qualifier, says national youth development director, Rowan Barrett.
Brazil and Venezuela, ranked 16th and 22nd respectively, are above the 23rd ranked Canada in Group “A” that also comprises the 30th ranked Dominican Republic and unranked Cuba.
Brazil is a three-time Americas championship winner and three of their starters – Leandro Barbosa (Toronto Raptors), Anderson Varejao (Cleveland Cavaliers) and Tiago Splitter (San Antonio Spurs) – are in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
The Brazilians will be the tough game,” acknowledged Barrett, a national team member for 17 years before retiring three years ago. “I think we can be highly competitive in the others matches, but the bottom line is that we have to go out and compete against whoever we are drawn against.
“Our focus needs to be on making sure that we have the best Canadian talent on the floor. Once we accomplish that, we will be fine.”
Ensuring the top talent in the country represents Canada is part of Barrett’s mandate.
“Talent identification is definitely one of the areas that I will be fully involved in,” he said. “I will try to reach every corner of this country, find the top young prospects and track their development. If they are in the most difficult neighbourhoods, they will be found now. Those are some of the kids we need to reach and bring into the fold.”
Barrett, who attended West Hill Collegiate Institute in Scarborough, is excited by the emerging young talent, including University of Texas freshmen Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson; Findlay Prep of Henderson high school point guard Myck Kabongo who is committed to the Longhorns and power forward Khem Birch from Montreal who has verbally committed to the Pittsburgh Panthers.
Thompson, a forward, is averaging 12.9 points and 7.6 rebounds as a starter while Joseph, a point guard who attended Pickering High School, is averaging 11.2 points a game. Both players graduated from Findlay Prep in Nevada.
“I am already talking to these players and they are very interested in representing Canada,” said Barrett, who graduated from St. John’s University and is a Royal Bank of Canada branch manager. “Tristan was home for just 48 hours during the Christmas holidays, but he still found the time to come and look for us. He’s very interested in our program.”
The 10-team FIBA Americas tournament takes place from August 30 to September 11 in Mar Del Plata, Argentina.
The other group comprises Argentina, Uruguay, Panama, Paraguay and Puerto Rico.
The top two teams advance to next year’s Olympics while the third, fourth and fifth-place teams will compete in a secondary Olympic qualifier at a venue and date to be announced later.
Canada’s best finish in the Americas tournament was runner-up in 1980 and 1999. In the last tournament in San Juan, Puerto Rico two years ago, the national side placed fourth which qualified them for the 2010 FIBA World championship.