Canada faces Lithuania, Korea and Croatia at FIBA U19 world championship

Canada Basketball’s Junior Men’s National Team (JMNT) is one of only 16 nations that will compete at the prestigious 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship for Men. In the live draw hosted by FIBA today, Canada is assigned to ‘Group C’ and will take on Lithuania, Croatia and Korea in the first round of competition.

The 10th FIBA World U19 Championship for Men will be played in the cities of Liepaja, Valmiera and Riga from 30 June until 10 July 2011, and will feature the world’s best young male players born in 1992 and after.

“Once again, it is an exciting experience as our athletes get to go up against big time players from around the world,” said Greg Francis, JMNT Head Coach. “Canada can field a team full of international talent with the potential to play on the senior men’s national team and eventually qualify us for the Olympic Games down the line. Based on the amount of young talent that we have coming into the tournament, nobody will take us lightly.”

This year marks the 10th edition of the FIBA U19 World Championship for Men, widely recognized as the second biggest global basketball event. Canada is one of four FIBA Americas nations participating in the tournament, after successfully defeating Argentina in 2010 at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship to win the bronze medal.

Myck Kabongo (Toronto, Ont.) is a proud Canadian who considers his JMNT experience one of the biggest moments of his young career. The 6-foot-2 guard was a major force with Canada’s 2010 JMNT scoring 15 points in the bronze medal match alone, and was amongst the tournament’s leaders in points (19.8 ppg), and rebounds (7.8 rpg). Kabongo finished tops in assists, leading all players with 6.4 apg. He is continuing to elevate his game, and is currently ranked as the No. 2 guard for ESPNU class of 2011 and ninth player overall.

“It was a great experience, probably one I will remember for the rest of my life, to represent Canada and come away with a medal,” Kabongo stated. “It’s an honour whenever you are selected to play for your country. This a big deal because you are playing against the top players from every country.”

The FIBA U19 World Championship is comprised of four competitive groups, which are sure to make for some very interesting and exciting action this summer.

Here are the results of the draw
Group A: Poland; Russia; Brazil; Tunisia.
Group B: Argentina; Latvia; Chinese Taipei; Australia.
Group C: Croatia; Korea; Canada; Lithuania.
Group D: USA; China; Serbia; Egypt.

“We are currently ranked sixth in the world in FIBA boy’s ranking, ahead of world powers like France, Australia and Spain,” stated Andrew Cook, Manager of Men’s Elite Performance for Canada Basketball. “Tournaments like the FIBA U19 World Championship play an integral role in developing these young athletes to help them reach their goals of becoming professional athletes and leading Canada in future qualification and Olympic medals.”

The success of Canada’s age group programs is making waves around the world. The JMNT bronze medal finish coupled with the Cadet Men’s National Team (CMNT) finishing third in the inaugural FIBA U17 World Championship, draws attention to the caliber of athletes that Canada is developing.

Kevin Pangos (Holland Landing, Ont.) is one of the nation’s top-ranked point guards and a well rounded athlete that can play both ends of the court. At the 2010 FIBA U17 World Championship he was the team leader in points, averaging 15.8 ppg and assists with 4.1 apg. The 6’1” guard was also among Canada’s top defenders averaging 5 rpg.

“When you get on the court, a lot of the nerves go away and it’s you against the other team,” commented Pangos. “You’re playing for your country. There’s a lot of pride involved and your competitive fire really comes out, so when you’re on the court, you don’t worry about it as much and you try to win for your country. It’s a great feeling.”

Canada will face some tough competition in the opening stage of the tournament. Lithuania won the 2010 FIBA Europe U18 Championship, while Croatia finished in fifth place. Korea also medaled in the zone qualifier, claiming the silver medal at the 2010 FIBA Asia U18 Championship.

“As a coach, it is a great challenge to find a balance of what you need to do to get your team prepared to do to play and what you need to do to make your team tough for your opponents to play against,” added Francis. “We have pressure on ourselves to make sure we get into the quarter-finals and give ourselves a chance to win the tournament.”

The format of the tournament is as follows:

June 30 – July 2: The first group stages will play in Liepaja and Valmiera and see the number of teams narrowed down from 16 to 12.
July 4-6: The 12 remaining teams will then travel to Riga where they will make up two new groups of six competing to reach the final eight round.
July 8-10: The quarter-finals will take place on July 8, with the semi-finals to following day and the finals July 10. All knockout round games are played at Arena Riga.

Canada’s JMNT is an essential tool for Canada Basketball to engage the elite youth and provide an opportunity long term basketball development.

“There is a tremendous amount for the kids to gain, said Rowan Barrett, Canada Basketball’s Director of Youth Player Development. “In the long term, the more opportunity we give kids to develop in this way, the more it will aid our national program moving forward. It is much easier to acclimate a player to the senior men’s team system if they have the experience and understand the culture and rules through playing for the junior team.”

Barrett added, “We provide the opportunity to be showcased on these levels as they get older. Not everyone is going to play in the NBA, but there is a significant opportunity to play professionally in Europe, with over 7,000 jobs there. The focus is to provide as much value for the kids to develop and the FIBA U19 World Championship is a great opportunity to do that. When the kids are winning and developing, then the country is winning and we’re continuing to develop.”

Overall, Canada’s JMNT has successfully qualified for the three consecutive FIBA U19 World Championship events, finishing in 10th place in 2007 and seventh place in 2009.

Please also note that the draw for the FIBA U19 World Championship for Women – to be played in Chile from 21-31 July – will be held on Friday 18 March, in Puerto Monte, Chile at 17:00 local time (21:00 CET).

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