Canada Finishes 7th at the 2023 FIBA U19 World Cup

A not-so unexpected result for Canada's U19 squad

Canada blew out Japan 107-58 in their final classification game, finishing 7th overall at the U19 World Cup. Considering the talent on the roster (by all accounts the 2004 born cohort of prospects is far from the strongest Canada has had) and the tournament draw (Canada faced the 3 medal winners Spain, France and Turkey before being relegated to the classification bracket), I am not too disappointed in this result. When you consider FIBA’s power rankings before the tournament started, Canada came in at 6th, so this finish is in line with the expectation for this group coming in.

Canada finished 3-4 at the U19 World Cup and 5-9 overall when including the preparatory exhibition games. Organizing and playing in 7 tune up games before the tournament started was a step in the right direction for the program, and it’s one that I hope to see continue. Building continuity and developing chemistry is uber important in these short tournaments, and I hope this mindset bubbles up as well to Canada’s Senior Men’s National Team. I’ve talked about continuity in the program at length in the latest Canadian Roundup if you’re interested.

As is the norm at the U19 level, I’ve gotten a chance to watch most of the players on the team multiple times over the years. Guys like Michael Nwoko (6’10” incoming Miami freshman) and Bubu Benjamin (6’7″ incoming Tarleton State freshman) who first impressed at the 2022 FIBA U18’s continued to play well overall in this tournament, though they didn’t flash any groundbreaking new skills. Elijah Fisher, who recently transferred from Texas Tech to DePaul, had a strong tournament, with noticeable improvements to his jump shot, specifically the pullup 3 point shooting. Fisher’s overall 3 point accuracy has improved from 12.5% on 1.1 3PA at the 2021 U19 World Cup, to 7.1% on 2.3 3PA at the 2022 U18 Americas, to now 43.8% on 2.3 3PA at the 2023 U19 World Cup. Higher efficiency on more volume is definitely impressive and something to keep an eye on as he enters his sophomore season.

The one guy who blew me away this year was guard Xaivian Lee, an incoming sophomore at Princeton. Unlike the players above, this was my first chance to evaluate Lee and he was my biggest standout on this Canadian U19 squad. Lee had 1 bad game in the opener against Spain (the whole team basically did), but finished the tournament incredibly strong. He led Canada at the World Cup in PPG and APG (14.1 and 3.1 averages respectively) and did it on good efficiency, with 47.8%/36.4%/78.1% shooting splits.

Lee was Canada’s best ball handler and really the only guard on the team that could create advantages in the half court. I was impressed by his ball handling and quickness, which helped Lee get two feet in the paint consistently, where he could finish in a variety of ways with his touch. Lee also flashed some nice pullup shooting, getting to this shot when opposing defenders went under screens/played deep drop. Harp, from BC Hoops Canada broke it down first, but Lee’s gathers off the dribble are meticulous and fundamentally sound, which certainly helps his pullup shooting accuracy. Overall, I am expecting a big sophomore season at Princeton from Lee next year.

Under head coach Patrick Tatham, Canada’s cadet teams struggled on the international stage, picking up bronze medals in the Americas championships but failing to medal at the World Cup. When you compare Canada’s past performances at these events, it’s clear there was some slippage during his tenure as head coach.

Canada’s Results with Patrick Tatham

  • 2021 FIBA U16 Americas: 3rd
  • 2022 FIBA U18 Americas: 3rd
  • 2022 FIBA U17 World Cup: 9th
  • 2023 FIBA U19 World Cup: 7th

Canada’s Most Recent Prior Results

  • 2019 FIBA U16 Americas: 2nd
  • 2018 FIBA U18 Americas: 2nd
  • 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup: 4th
  • 2021 FIBA U19 World Cup: 3rd

Obviously the coaching staff is not at total fault for the lack of results. The amount of high end talent ebbs and flows in Canada’s prospect pipeline and the cohort of players this last couple summers was just a weaker group. No shame in that and these results are certainly not an indictment on the future talent level of Canada’s prospects overall. For what it’s worth, the class of 2025 (Efeosa Oliogu, Will Riley, Jaion Pitt, Spencer Ahrens, Marial Akuentok) and class of 2027 (Paul Osaruyi, Kymani Walters, Godson Okokoh are the players I’ve watched) look to be pretty strong classes right now, though much can change with youth basketball. It’s also worth considering the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, which led to the cancellation of the 2020 FIBA U18 Americas and FIBA U17 World Cup, had on each player’s development curve.

Bottom line, the 7th place finish, while not as good of a result as Canada’s junior teams have achieved in the past, is not some sort of warning sign that the well is drying up. However, at the same time, the program cannot become complacent as there were clear flaws and weaknesses with this year’s prospect pool (lack of shooting and high level perimeter creators overall come to mind this year). Canada Basketball is certainly invested in our junior teams as evident by the amount of preparation organized for the 2023 World Cup, so here’s hoping that type of proactive investment continues moving forward. Harmonious co-operation between player development infrastructure, coaching staff tactics, roster construction and rotations, and Canada Basketball as a whole will ensure our junior teams continue to find success on the world stage. Results and talent pools will fluctuate in strength over the years, but the process of decision making will be consistently strong, which is what matters to me.