The tough thing about valuable experience is that it’s not always sweetness and light gaining it. The process can be filled with knocks that are hard to take in the moment.
Canada’s run at the FIBA AmeriCup tournament in Brazil ended in disheartening fashion Sunday evening, with a second straight late-game letdown leading to an 84-80 loss to the United States in the third-place game.
It will be a bitter pill to swallow in the present for a young Canadian basketball team that played hard but lacked the late-game crispness of execution needed in big moments, but the only solace is that lessons learned won’t be repeated when they are once again called on to represent their country.
As happened Saturday in the tournament semifinal — when Canada failed to score in the final three minutes against a far more veteran Brazilian team drawing on its personal experiences — the Canadians once again let a chance at victory slip away.
In what had been a nip-and-tuck game — not played at the highest level of intensity and skill, as one could imagine, but competitive — Canada once again didn’t seal the deal.
A basket by Abu Kigab — the 23-year-old making his senior team tournament debut, who had 18 points — got Canada into a 73-73 tie with just over two minutes left before the Americans went on a 9-0 run in about 90 seconds to put the game away.
It was the kind of finish that tough-minded but inexperienced teams go through. It likely helps in the long run, but does nothing in the now.
“I felt like we did what we needed to do to compete within these games,” Canada head coach and Raptors assistant Nate Mitchell said at a post-game news conference. “The big thing is end of game, last three minutes. You can play hard, come back from 15 (down), you can be up eight and lose the lead, and it’s going to come down to a tie game with three minutes.
“What do you run? How are you guarding them defensively, and are you putting pressure on the rim? All those things come into play.”
That Canada did not execute close to flawlessly in either weekend game can be attributed greatly to inexperience and unfamiliarity. The entire team practised just twice in Brazil before opening the AmeriCup and still found a way to be competitive in every game.
“This was a great experience for us,” Mitchell said. “We’ll continue to grow, and I think that continuity we’re trying to build with all our teams will help our country get better.”
The game marked the end of what has to be considered a successful summer overall for the men’s program.
The marquee senior team won four games to remain unbeaten in World Cup qualifying and should finish the formality of earning a spot in November, likely in Edmonton. They will, of course, ultimately be led by players with NBA pedigrees and far more experience and that’s important. But teams such as the AmeriCup squad, and the under-23s at the GLOBL Jam in Toronto in July, are vital for stocking the pool. It allows young players and young coaches to get better, to find better jobs, to continue to improve their lives and build out the circle of Canadian basketball.
It will be of little solace now to players who saw a chance at a medal evaporate in about a 30-hour window in Brazil. But in the long run, everyone should be better thanks to the lessons learned.
“Hopefully this helps us in the (qualification) windows. The ultimate goal here is to make the World Cup and qualify for the Olympics and medal,” Mitchell said. “That’s where our country is, and that’s where our mindset is.
“Developing these players helps us. It helps us grow for the future.”
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