Yes, you are reading this title correctly. Canada has finally broken through and won a major international tournament. After all those years of hype, the golden generation of Canadian basketball talent has taken home a major trophy. There has been success in the past, such as the FIBA Americas U-18 silver medals in 2014 and 2016 or the Pan Am Games Silver medal in 2015. But it is safe to say this is the biggest achievement Canada Basketball has ever had. This is a new crop of young Canadian talent that is perhaps unknown to most basketball fans.
Canada Wins FIBA U-19 World Cup
The U-19 team did not have big time NBA prospects like Simisola Shittu, future Kentucky point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Arizona commit Emmanuel Akot. No, this was a roster missing some of the most premier talent in the world. This roster was led by a 17-year-old phenom in the form of number one recruit for the class of 2019 R.J. Barrett.
While some major talent was not available for Canada, they were still heavily favoured to come out of their group. In a group with Spain, Japan and Mali, Canada struggled to find cohesion early on in the tournament, getting upset by Spain 78-73. The rest of the group was a bit of a cake walk for them, demolishing Mali 91-42 behind 20 points and 11 rebounds from Barrett. They were able to then beat Japan 100-75. Some stand out performers were Iowa State commit Lindell Wigginton and Oregon commit Abu Kigab.
Angola and France
In the first round of the knockout stages came Angola and highly touted power forward Silvio de Sousa. A product of IMG Academy in Florida, de Sousa is a man among boys in the paint. He scored 18 points and grabbed 9 rebounds but was unable to get anything going late. Canada separated from Angola in the fourth quarter, winning 87-65 behind 22 points from Danilo Djuricic. He is a 6’8 forward who will be attending Harvard next season.
France was a different test as they had to contend with Gonzaga big man Killian Tillie. He led France to a European U16 title in 2014. Tillie had 22 points and 17 rebounds, but once again the one-man show was not enough to stop a well rounded Canadian team.
With Barrett scoring a game-high 27 points and Abu Kigab scoring 17 and grabbing 15 rebounds, Canada was too much for France in the end, winning 73-67. It was not all perfect for Canada, though. Point guard Lindell Wigginton went down with an ankle injury and would miss the semi-finals against the United States.
To say Canada was an underdog in this matchup is probably an understatement. And although Canada was missing some of its top players, so were the United States with players such as Markelle Fultz and Malik Monk playing in the NBA. Despite that they still had tons of talent with guys like Hamidou Diallo, P.J. Washington, Brandon McCoy and Payton Pritchard.
This is the game when R.J. Barrett showed he is arguably the best prospect under 19 regardless of age. Against the powerhouse Americans, Barrett scored 38 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and dished out five assists. Scoring every way possible, Barrett looked like a man among boys. He set the tone from the beginning, scoring nine of Canada’s first 13 points.
He also showed some tremendous vision in the pick and roll, finding Montverde teammate Grant Shepherd for easy layups on more than one occasion. Canada held the lead for almost the entire game until Barrett fouled out with three minutes left in regulation. Strangely enough, it was here when Canada pulled away, with Djuricic making multiple plays in the last minute. Canada was able to hold on 99-87 in a historic victory. It was the first victory for Canada basketball over the United States regardless of age or gender.
The Gold medal match should have been, according to most experts, a close game. Italy was one of the favourites to grab a medal at the tournament. With Lorenzo Bucarelli and Tommaso Oxilia handling the ball and David Okeke in the paint, they would be problematic.
Straight from tip-off, Canada looked unstoppable with Barrett and Abu Kigab once again leading the way. Every time Italy tried to make a game of it, either Djuricic or Nova Scotia native Nate Darling would hit a three-pointer. When the whistle blew it was 79-60 for Canada, with Barrett once again leading the team in points, assists and rebounds.
Barrett was awarded tournament MVP, leading the tournament in scoring 21 points per game. He was also named to the the All-Tournament Team with fellow Canadian Kigab. University of Ryerson Head Coach Roy Rana won his first gold medal for Canada. He coached the likes of Trey Lyles, Tyler Ennis, Andrew Wiggins, Dillon Brooks, Jamal Murray and Anthony Bennett at the junior level.
What’s Next For Canada Basketball
This will be a marquee win for Canada Basketball, who will be hoping to capitalize on the momentum. They will be participating in the FIBA Americas Cup from August 25th to September 3rd where they will be expected to medal. They will also be looking to qualify for the FIBA World Cup in 2019, where fans of Canada basketball might see a few players from the U-19 Championship Team.