Team Canada winter players that intrigued

Looking into four "winter core" players that did the most in their senior team debuts.

The Canadian senior men’s basketball team has qualified for the 2023 FIBA World Cup after going 11-1 in qualification, the best record in the Americas.

Their impressive qualifying run was capped off by an impressive 74-57 win over Venezuela on Sunday, Feb. 26th. As usual with Canada’s “winter core,” Phil and Thomas Scrubb led the Canadians to the win, and they were presented with prizes from Canada Basketball after becoming the only players to appear in all 12 qualification games.

But throughout this run, 30 different athletes suited up for the red and white to help qualify for this summer’s World Cup, including several making their senior team debuts. And only 12 of those 30 players will actually make the World Cup roster, primarily ones you have heard of who play in the NBA.

The other 18 athletes, however, could play a big role for Team Canada in the years ahead, becoming stewards of the program and regular members of the “winter core” just like Phil and Thomas Scrubb did before them. The following are some lesser-known Canadian players who intrigued me in their senior team debuts during World Cup qualification.

Kalif Young / Center / 4.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, 52/33/58 shooting splits in 14.1 mins

Young is a 25-year-old Canadian center who attended Oakwood Collegiate Institute for high school (shoutout Oakwood!) before moving onto Providence for four years of college. He currently plays in Germany and spends his summers in the CEBL.

Young was a huge surprise in this qualifying run, seemingly coming out of nowhere to play in 9 of 12 games and cement himself as one of the best centers on the winter team. At 6-foot-9, Young has a strong frame and big wingspan that makes him a traditional center, while his game is predicated around screen setting and rim running. In fact, his athleticism and wingspan make him an easy target for lobs and other passes in the screen-and-roll game.

Plus, Young averaged 1.5 STOCKS per game in qualifying, proving to be a very impactful defender. His positioning and footwork in the pick-and-roll could get better, but he is so long and athletic that he mucks things up in the paint, especially in the FIBA game where their is no 3-in-the-key rule. Young’s upside in the international game is very intriguing, especially at a position that Canada has not had depth in in recent years.

Jackson Rowe / Forward / 10 points, 5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 37/25/0 shooting splits in 23.9 mins

Rowe came out of nowhere to not only make his senior team debut in the final round of qualification, but actually start both games at the small-forward spot against Argentina and Venezuela. After playing four years at Cal State Fullerton, Rowe went to Europe to play club basketball in France, Sweden, and Germany in addition to spending last summer in the CEBL.

While there is nothing sexy about Rowe’s game, he has a very complimentary skill set and a history of being a good three-point shooter, which makes him a prototypical 3-and-D player. At 6-foot-7, 209-pounds, the 26-year-old Rowe is a physical player who guard multiple positions, comfortable switching 2-through-5 in the lineup. He averaged 3.0 STOCKS per game in his two qualification games, showing that he has an eye for the ball. And if he continues to knock down outside shots, Rowe will be a player coaches love to have around their stars for years to come.

Kadre Gray / Guard / 4 points, 2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1 steal on 44/0/57 shooting in 12.1 mins

Gray is another Oakwood alumni who stayed in Canada and went to Laurentian University for college, earning the 2017-18 U SPORTS Athlete of the Year award. He currently plays in the CEBL.

The 25-year-old, 6-foot-1 guard is a combo-guard who can play on the ball and off of it. But what really sticks out with Gray is his defence, as he was unleashed in the latest round of qualifying to hound ball-handlers like former-NBA point guard Facundo Campazzo on Argentina. Gray might be relatively short but he is stout and has really quick feet and long arms, making for a dangerous combination as a point of attack defender. He can really get into the bodies of opposing ball-handlers and make things tough on them, which works in Nick Nurse’s ball-pressure system. And he is also strong enough to switch onto wings when he has to. Gray could be used as a defensive specialist going forward.

Thomas Kennedy / Forward / 2 points, 2 rebounds on 67 percent shooting in 8.1 minutes

Kennedy was likely away from Team Canada in the final round of qualification because he is in his final year at the University of Windsor, who are currently in the playoffs with a team built around Kennedy’s skill set. Kennedy has been one of the best two-way players in U SPORTS for the past few years as an elite post-hub and rebounder who does a little bit of everything for his hometown Lancers. He recently became the program’s all-time leading scorer.

I’ll admit i’m biased, as Kennedy hasn’t done much for Canada in qualification, only playing limited minutes in two games, and he might not be an ideal FIBA player due to his lack of size at the center position at just 6-foot-9. But Kennedy was Canada’s best center at the FIBA AmeriCup this past summer, outplaying Young. He is a terrific passer from the post and in short-roll situations, and his footwork and finishing under the basket is elite. However, his lack of size and outside shooting makes it difficult for him to be the only big on the floor, so he will be best playing beside a floor-spacing big like Conor Morgan or Kelly Olynyk, for example. Kennedy is just such a unique player who will only become a pro this summer, so he is a name to keep an eye on going forward.

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