Canada basketball rising

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Jude P. Roque

There is a new world power rising in the sport of basketball, and that’s undeniably Canada. Earlier this month, its Under-19 National Team blasted Italy, 79-60, for the gold in the FIBA Under-19 World Cup in Cairo, Egypt to become the best hoops gang in the world in that age group. RJ Barrett, now considered the best player in the world in his age bracket, led Canada with 18 points, 12 rebounds and four assists. Before the championship match, the Canadians also waylaid the United States in their semi-final bout, 99-87, where Barrett collected an eye-popping 38 markers and 13 boards. Before the tourney, Canada was ranked No. 3 in the world in the division.

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Rowan “RJ” Barrett, Jr. is without a doubt the most sensational baller in all of Canada right now, especially after the recent world championship. The 6’7” shooting guard from Mississauga, Ontario just recently turned 17 years old but is already becoming the face of Canadian basketball. His father Rowan Sr. is the Assistant General Manager of Canada Basketball, the National Federation for basketball of Canada. Legendary Canadian player and former National Basketball Association (NBA) star Steve Nash is the General Manager. Even with still a year left in high school, RJ is already receiving numerous offers from NCAA Division 1 programs. He paced all scorers in the World Cup with 21.6 points per game. Roy Rana of Ryerson University is the head coach of the victorious U19 squad. More than half of the roster is from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Just last Saturday, Canada’s U19 National Women’s Team also figured for the first time in the FIBA U19 Women’s World Cup semi-finals, but bowed to Russia, 41-65.The Canucks have yet to play Japan for the bronze as of this writing. But even if they lose this game, this has already been the best finish for the young National squad. They nipped China in the quarterfinals, 68-65. They were ranked fourth in the tournament after a bridesmaid finish in the FIBA U18 Americas Championship also this month.

In the NBA, Canadians are also making waves, which is probably why basketball has grown in leaps and bounds in this North American country. In 2013 and 2014, Canadians Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins respectively got picked first overall in the NBA Draft. Wiggins went on to win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award. The other notable currently seeing action in the NBA are Tristan Thompson of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Cory Joseph of the Indiana Pacers, Kelly Olynyk of the Miami Heat, Tyler Ennis of the Los Angeles Lakers, NikStauskas of the Philadelphia 76ers, and Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets.

Speaking of Canadians, the Filipino-Canadian team that competed in the National basketball Training Center (NBTC) last March certainly caught the attention of several collegiate programs here in Manila. Crossover Sports Canada chief and Durham Crossover head coach Mike Cruz recently arrived in town and brought with him five of his top players, who were all recruited by top collegiate teams here, namely Robert Ocampo for the College of St. Benilde, Evyn Santiago for the University of the Philippines, Ben Kwawuku­mey for the University of Santo Tomas, and James Canlas and Alvin Florido for San Beda College. Ocampo was the tournament MVP in the Dreamers’ Hoops tournament in Lucban, Quezon last summer, while Santiago was one of the top performers in the last NBTC. But Canlas owns the best credentials among them as he was listed last year as among the Top 50 high school players in Canada. Last Saturday, the 18-year old guard debuted for the Red Lions in the Fr. Martin Cup with 17 markers against the City of San Juan All-Stars.

Cruz said the even the Filipinos in Canada, especially from the GTA, have improved vastly in their basketball skills. He expects more players from his team to attract local coaches here in the coming years. Cruz is also in close contact with the Canada Basketball organization as he completes his internship with the Ontario Basketball Association. He added that more future projects between Canada and the Philippines are in the works.

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