Photo Credit: @CanBball/Twitter
While the Canadian National team failed to qualify for the Olympics for the fifth straight time last weekend in Victoria, the U19 team made sure to deliver on their end, earning their second podium finish in history.
During a week of competition in Latvia at the U19 FIBA World Cup, the young canucks willed by grit and determination went on an incredible run, winning their first five games before losing to the United States in the Semi-Finals.
Arizona Wildcats guard and Montreal native Bennedict Mathurin led the way for Canada with 31 points, 14 of them in the final frame during a back-and-forth game on Sunday, as they defeated Serbia 101-92 to earn a third-place finish.
Mathurin was one of several young players on Canada’s roster to make a name for themselves throughout the week of games. Michigan Wolverine commit Caleb Houstan (18) led the team in scoring, averaging 17 points per game, good for fourth best in the tournament, while Aurora native Ryan Nembhard (18) and Toronto-born Zach Edey each had a double-double in the bronze medal match to help lead Canada to victory.
With his performance, Mathurin became the only Canadian player to score over 30 points in a game. Houstan scored 17 on the night and Edey blocked five shots in addition to his double-double.
The 7’3″ Edey made headlines with his dominant play throughout the entirety of the tournament. The towering figure became the tallest player to ever play in the big ten this past year, while also making the Big Ten Freshman team with the Purdue Boilermakers. Edey was an unstoppable force in the paint, averaging over 15 points per game and grabbing 99 rebounds, 25 more than the next highest player in the tournament.
While not a perennial scorer, Edey’s post-play, aggressive defense and determination through the 7 games earned him a spot on the all-star five of the tournament and much deserved recognition.
Nembhard, who recently committed to the Creighton Bluejays, also had outstanding week, finishing second on the team in scoring and tied with France’s Matthew Strazel for the most assists in the tournament.
After an eight place finish in 2019, that ended with a loss to Serbia, the U19 team should be happy with this improved result. Their only other podium finish was four years ago in Cairo when they defeated Italy to win the country’s first ever basketball gold medal. A team that was driven by New York Knicks rising star, R.J Barrett.
While U19 head coach Paul Weir and his staff had their sights set for gold, Weir was pleased with the effort of his players in Latvia.
“While not the one we truly wanted, one that in time we will all come to appreciate more and more… I am so thankful to have been a part of such a great group of athletes and staff,” the former New Mexico State coach told reporters after the victory.
The result this past weekend is surely a positive sign for Canadian basketball. Despite failing to qualify for the Olympics, the performances by Mathurin, Edey, Houstan and Nembhard, among others, indicate that the future is exceedingly bright for Canadian basketball.