When Canada announced their roster for the FIBA AmeriCup tournament, fans were disappointed to find zero of the 14-man summer core and only one NBA player on it. It wasn’t Canada’s best team — far from it. But by sending a relatively unknown group of pros, 11 of 12 of them with experience in Canada’s domestic league, the CEBL, Canada Basketball made a bet on the nation’s depth being so good that it would be competitive against some other nation’s best rosters.
After all, we have talked ad nauseam about Canada being in a golden age of basketball, and while we usually focus on the NBA players, it’s just as much about the deep pool of talent that Canada now has, with so many high-level players in Europe, in college, and right here at home in Canada that fans don’t even know them all by name. This AmeriCup roster is a testament to that depth, and if the opening night loss to Brazil was an appetizer, Canada’s 84-78 win over Uruguay on Saturday night was the main course.
Team Canada head coach Nathaniel Mitchell played all 12 of his players at least 7:42 minutes against Uruguay after playing only 10 against Brazil, with two of those ten playing less than 5:20. Mitchell bet on Canada’s depth in their second contest, giving literally everyone on the roster a chance before deciding who to ride at the end. It paid off, with everyone chipping in to improve Canada’s record to 1-1 in the tournament.
While Canada got off to another slow start, once again struggling to take care of the ball or make their threes in the first quarter, which ended 19-17 in favour of Uruguay, their offense came to life in the second-quarter, scoring 25-points to lead 42-37 at the half.
Uruguay stormed back into it by winning the third quarter 24-12, and they even opened up a 10-point lead a couple minutes into the fourth quarter. But Canada was not to be outdone, closing out the game with stingy defence forcing turnovers, second-chance points won by way of out-hustling their opponents, made free throws in the dying minutes, and for the first time all tournament, good outside shooting, pulling ahead in the final minutes to win 84-78.
Dalano Banton had a good all-around game, scoring 18 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists, struggling to shoot from outside (1/7 from three) but making use of his size on defense and on the glass, while also taking advantage of the increased spacing to find his teammates for easy baskets. He is still due to have an offensive explosion in the coming games.
Jahvon Henry-Blair was also fantastic in this once, and they needed every one of his 23 points on 6 made three-pointers. He has a knack for scoring and isn’t afraid to shoot, even on the move, which this Canadian team desperately needs.
Kadre Gray, who was one of the two players (along with Chad Posthumus) who didn’t see the floor in Canada’s opening night loss to Brazil, provided timely scoring throughout, including a clutch three pointer to give Canada a lead they would not relinquish, finishing with 13 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists in 23:09 minutes of action.
By spreading out the minutes more evenly in this game, Mitchell usually had only one big on the floor surrounded by outside shooters, and that allowed his scorers to find their rhythm as the game went on, eventually exploding for 30 points in the deciding fourth quarter, which Canada won by a score of 30-17. Banton scored eight of his 16 points in the fourth, while Gray added seven of his 13 points in the quarter.
A night after Canada’s bench got thoroughly outplayed against Brazil, losing the bench-points battle 33-15, Canada’s bench outscored the Uruguayans’ 44-40. And a night after shooting 3/28 from three, Canada shot 12/31 from outside against Uruguay. And while that was more or less the difference, it’s important that Mitchell is finding more guys who can score and figuring out just how small (or big) they can play.
Unfortunately, Trae Bell-Hanyes has really struggled to find his form in this tournament, shooting just 4/13 from 2-point land and 1/6 from three, while contributing just 4 assists to 5 turnovers through two games. Sure, his hustle has been noteworthy, coming up with timely offensive rebounds as the smallest guy on the court, but Canada is going to need more from their starting two-guard if they want to be competitive in this tournament. Especially for a guy of Bell-Haynes’ caliber, who was a stud in the CEBL and overseas last season, it’s fair to ask for more.
Up next for Canada is a meeting with Colombia on Monday, September 5th at 10:10 a.m. ET. Colombia is 1-1 in the tournament, defeating Uruguay on opening night and getting destroyed by Brazil on Saturday, losing 60-100. Whoever wins will lock up the second seed in Group A and will move on to the quarterfinals.