Team Canada head coach Nathaniel Mitchell will have his work cut out for him during the upcoming FIBA AmeriCup, which runs from September 2-11 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where Canada will send an inexperienced developmental team to compete in the tournament, with zero participation from their 14-man “summer core” and only one NBA player.
While the AmeriCup is not technically a qualifier for the World Cup or Olympic Games, the tournament — which features the best teams from the Americas, including Canada, the United States, Argentina, Brazil, and many more — does count towards FIBA World Rankings, which in turn factor into which pot a team will be placed in for the draw to determine next summer’s World Cup groups. A higher seed means better chances at landing in an easier group, while a low seed risks being put in a group of death.
Canada currently sits 18th in the world, but their dominant 8-0 showing in World Cup qualifying so far should raise that ranking ahead of next summer, as long as they come out of the AmeriCup unscathed.
Given that reality and the importance of next summer’s World Cup when it comes to qualifying for the Olympics, you would think that Canada would send their most talented and experienced team possible to the AmeriCup, which the country used to take very seriously, winning bronze as recently as 2015.
Instead, Canada is sending a developmental team to this year’s AmeriCup, highlighted by Toronto Raptors sophomore guard Dalano Banton, Niagara River Lions star guard Trae Bell-Haynes, Raptors summer league invitee and defensive stopper Abu Kigab, and a depth of CEBL-experienced centers in Kalif Young, Chad Posthumus and Thomas Kennedy. In fact, 11 of the 12 players that made the final roster have CEBL experience, making the tournament a big test for Canada’s domestic league.
Canada will miss out on the opportunity for members of the senior team to continue building chemistry together and be favourites to win a competitive tournament — something Canada’s senior men haven’t done in a long time. They won’t even have their best non-NBA pros like the Scrubb brothers, Kassius Robertson, or Melvin Ejim, nor will they have their best college players such as Zach Edey, Marcus Carr, or the Miller brothers. And considering that Eurobasket is taking place at the same time, where over 40 NBA players are participating, including the past two NBA MVPs, Canada’s lack of NBA commitment is even more jarring. After all, they will have to defeat some of these European teams if they want to do well in next summer’s World Cup, so it would have been nice to get the same amount of reps in as them the summer before the big tournament.
But there are also obvious pros to sending a younger team to Brazil, too, including the ability to showcase the country’s burgeoning depth of talent, including several players with USports and CEBL experience. This is not Canada’s A team, and it might not even be their B or C team, but it is filled with young players with promise, and a good finish could prove that Canada is deeper than many outsiders think.
There are also the obvious developmental advantages that come with putting the ball in a guy like Banton’s hands and giving him high-level international reps before he goes to play his second season in the NBA with his hometown Raptors (Banton’s contract is still unguaranteed for next season but he is by all accounts a shoe-in to make the team. Still, it says everything you need to know about how Canadians view international basketball that many people are worried about how an injury could setback Banton while nnobody is bringing up how a good performance in the AmeriCup could actually help Banton get a second NBA contract. But I digress).
In fact, Banton will likely be a linchpin for this team. While he might not be the most skilled or experienced player for Canada, making his debut in the white and red, he is certainly the most unique. And that makes him someone that opposing teams might not be prepared to handle. After all, not many players come with Banton’s combination of size and playmaking — he has a unique ability to read the floor and spray creative passes all over it, putting his teammates in good positions to succeed, which matters even more when you are playing with less skilled teammates. His three-point shooting and decision making is still a work in progress, but if Banton can limit the turnovers and find ways to score outside of transition, Canada will go as far as he takes them.
Banton will likely start in the backcourt beside Bell-Haynes, who’s shooting and ball-handling should fit in nicely beside a driver and facilitator like Banton. Devonte Bandoo could also play alongside them, as he was one of the best scorers in the CEBL last season and is a knockdown three-point shooter.
While the team is thin at the wings, Abu Kigab will likely get the start at the three or four as a lockdown wing defender who can do a little bit of everything. The team is stacked at forward, though, with Young, Kennedy, and Posthumus all experienced centers with different skill sets. None of them are outside shooters, though, so it will be difficult to play two of them at the same time with Banton also on the court — another reason Mitchell will have his work cut out for him.
Lloyd Pandi is the big unknown for Team Canada, especially when it comes to how his game will translate to international basketball in his first experience with the national team. As a post-up wing with elite strength and finishing, he was the best player in USports, bringing Carleton University two championships and being selected as MVP of the league twice. He declared for the 2022 NBA draft but due to confusing international prospect rules that he was not aware of, was deemed ineligible. Still, Pandi is hoping to make his way to an NBA team and show that it is possible for Canadian athletes to make the league through the USports route, so I’ll be rooting for him. You can learn more about the rostered players here.
Nathaniel Mitchell, an assistant coach for both the Senior Men’s National Team and the Toronto Raptors, will assume the role of head coach for Team Canada. Mitchell made his Team Canada head coaching debut earlier this summer the inaugural GLOBL JAM tournament in Toronto, where the Under-23 team went 3-0 in the group stage before losing a close one to the United States in the semi-finals. He will be joined on the bench by assistant coaches Dave DeAveiro and Scott Morrison, as well as Michael Meeks. Canada held a short training camp in Victoria, B.C. before scrimmaging against the U.S.A in Brazil, but they have far less experience playing together than most of their competition.
Canada is in Group A for the AmeriCup and will play all three teams in the group including hosts Brazil (Sept. 2, 7:10 p.m. ET), Uruguay (Sept. 3, 4:40 p.m. ET), and Colombia (Sept. 5, 10:10 a.m. ET). The two best finishers in each group as well as the two best third-place teams in the competition will move on to the quarterfinals, where it is do-or-die the rest of the way through until a winner emerges. Canada could play up to a total of six games.
Canada’s team was ranked No. 7 in the tournament according to FIBA’s power rankings, with USA the favourites. In terms of Group A, Brazil is ranked No. 2, while Uruguay and Colombia are ranked directly behind Canada, at No. 8 and 9, respectively. Canada will want to get those games against Uruguay and Colombia to secure a spot in the quarterfinals.
FIBA ranks Team Canada's AmeriCup squad No. 7 in their Power Rankings. USA is No. 1, featuring former Raptors Patrick McCaw and Jodie Meeks https://t.co/Btxp0QYrKo
— Oren Weisfeld (@OrenWeisfeld) September 1, 2022
Fans in Canada can catch all the action streaming live on Courtside 1891. It costs $13.99 CAD to watch all AmeriCup games. Brutal, I know, but don’t shoot the messenger.
UPDATE: Fans in Canada can catch all the action streaming live on DAZN. Games are blacked out on Courtside 1891, and can only be watched after the fact. Sorry about the confusion, but you should be able to email them and ask for a refund if you paid, as they gave the impression that there would not be regional blackouts in Canada.