FIBA summer hoops continue for Team Canada today with the start of the 2023 FIBA U19 World Cup.
Canada, the reigning FIBA U18 Americas and FIBA U19 World Cup bronze medalists, finds themselves in Group A, alongside European powerhouses Spain (vs June 24th) and France (vs June 27th), and the FIBA U18 Asian bronze medalists China (vs June 25th).
The group stage games at the U19 are kind of inconsequential (aside from clinching seeding) since every team does qualify for the knockout stages. This year though, it is especially important that Canada does not finish last in the group. Group A (Canada’s group) crosses over with Group B in the knockout stages. And wouldn’t you know it, our southern rivals, the USA (the heavy favourites to finish 1st in their group), drew into Group B. Got to take care of business early, if Canada wants a deep U19 World Cup run.
So whose on the team this year? Six of the 12 players from last year’s U18 team (Benjamin, Dumont, Evbagharu, Fisher, Nwoko, Simon), along with 3 incoming NCAA sophomores (Hurley, Lee, Martynov) figure to be the core. The roster is rounded out with class of 2023 G Williamson, 2025 C Rioux and 2025 F Pitt. With 6 games played in last year’s U18 Americas, an additional 7(!) exhibition tune ups earlier this month and I’m sure countless AAU/prep games played together, this U19 team has a familiarity on the court that no other Canadian men’s junior team has had before. It remains to be seen how large of a role this pre-tournament chemistry will have, but still, kudos to Canada Basketball for investing in exhibition games.
Side note: Olivier Rioux is now listed at 7’8″(!!!!!) according to Canada Basketball. Absolutely wild that he’s THAT tall (but also looks proportional) at just 17 years old.
As always, if you want to learn more about each player on the roster and Canada’s group stage opponents, Hair Canada wrote a 5k word preview for this U19 World Cup. I highly recommend giving it a read before Canada takes on Spain later today.
The big non-injury omissions from this summer’s roster include class of 2023 5 star prospect Aden Holloway (ranked 17th in ESPN’s recruiting database) and 2025 elite prospect Efeosa Oliogu. Holloway, whose Canadian roots were recently revealed at the Nike Hoops Summit, would have been the lead guard for this team and his elite 3pt shooting would have filled an area of extreme need (Canada shot 22.1% from 3 at the 2022 U18’s, -3.1% compared to tournament average). Given Holloway’s absence from the exhibition games as well, I would guess that perhaps his citizenship/passport documents did not process in time, which is a shame.
I’m much more surprised with Oliogu being cut from the team. Born in 2006 (just turned 17 2 months ago), Oliogu, who stands at 6’5″, is on the younger side for this tournament. Given Canada’s history of carrying younger prospects on U19 teams (Jaion Pitt & Olivier Rioux in 2023, Elijah Fisher in 2021, Charles Bediako in 2019), I don’t think youth is a valid excuse for his absence. Personally, I did have Oliogu as a starter on the U19 team when the training camp invites were announced, but I know consensus is he was not overwhelmingly impressive during the exhibition games. I still do think his omission is a mistake, but the coaching staff obviously has a lot more intel than me.
Canada, led by McMaster Basketball head coach Patrick Tatham, will start their bronze medal defense today against the extremely talented Spanish team.