Folks, history has been made on the hardcourt.
On Sunday, July 9, the Canadian men's Under-19 (U19) national team defeated Italy 79–60 in the final match of the FIBA U19 World Cup in Cairo, Egypt. It is the first-ever medal for a Canadian national team in any category in a FIBA (International Basketball Federation) world championship tournament. Even more impressive, the Canadians reached the final by defeating the defending champions, the United States, 99–87.
Here's the team celebrating the big victory.
Let that one sink in for a bit. Led by tournament MVP 17 year-old R.J. Barrett of Mississauga, ON, and 18 year-old Abu Kigab of St. Catharines, ON, the Canadians established themselves as the best young basketball team in the world. And according to experts, this victory was no fluke. Canadian basketball has steadily been getting better and better.
Canada is here to stay.
The United States: masters of the court
As impressive as the Canadian win over Italy was, many people are even more focused on their semi-final victory over the USA. (The one where Canada's R.J. Barrett scored 38 points while playing against players two years older than him.) There's good reason for that.
For decades, the world of international basketball has had a handful of pretty impressive nations: Spain, Australia, Serbia, Lithuania, Brazil, Russia, Argentina...
...and then there was the United States.
Whether you were talking about men's or women's teams, adult or youth competitions, no country outperformed the USA. It was not even close.
This wasn't shocking. After all, the Untied States was home to the National Basketball Association (NBA), easily the best basketball league on the planet. This was made even clearer in 1992 when pros from the NBA were allowed play in the Olympics for the first time. The American team, called The Dream Team, blew the competition away.
Canada comes into its own
But in 1995, something big happened—Canada finally got two teams in the NBA: The Toronto Raptors and the Vancouver Grizzlies. Though the Grizzlies left Vancouver in 2001, the arrival of the league gave young Canadians local heroes to look up to... and to inspire them on to the court. Players like Vince Carter, Morris Peterson, and Chris Bosh. Now, 22 years later, the Canadian U19 team is full of excellent players who have grown up with their country as a part of the NBA. In 2014, Toronto's Andrew Wiggins was selected number one overall in the NBA draft. And fellow Torontonian Tristan Thompson is an NBA Champion playing alongside the mighty LeBron James in Cleveland.
So does this means that the United States' basketball is in trouble? No way. This was just one loss for a country that is still the country to beat. But it does mean that after 20 years of pro basketball, young Canadian players aren't just underdogs anymore. Many people are already predicting that R.J. Barrett will follow Wiggins as the number one player in the next NBA draft.
"We've never been world champions. We don't actually have a plan", Canada Basketball CEO Michele O'Keefe half-joked to the CBC after the victory. But sometimes when you give players heroes to look up to and a chance to play the game they love, you don't need a plan. You just need a little patience to let the talent grow.
Welcome to the world, Canadian basketball. You've been worth the wait!