Sunday, 24 July 2016

U18 Men Claim Silver at FIBA Americas

This article was posted on the Canada Basketball website after the Men’s U18 Gold Medal Final yesterday between Canada and the US.  Canada Basketball has a very exciting things in store for the future so I thought I would share this article with you.      

VALDIVIA, CHILE - The U18 Men's National Team is bringing home silver after a hugely successful showing at the 2016 FIBA Americas U18 Men's Championship, where Team Canada qualified for next summer's FIBA U19 Men's World Championships in Cairo.

Canada wrapped things up by giving the United States all it could handle before coming up just short, 99-84, in the gold medal final on Saturday. 
"We are disappointed because we believe we had a real shot to bring home a gold for our country, but extremely proud of our group for fighting through injury and adversity and never giving up,” said Team Canada coach Roy Rana. “Canada should be proud of these young men. They battled hard for our country. We will continue to strive for improvement and look to represent at next year's Worlds in Cairo."
Canada's starting five included Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, O'Shae Brissett, Josip Vrankic, Nickeil Walker and Lindell Wigginton Click here for full team roster.

Walker led Canada with 25 points and shot a scorching seven-for-14 on three-pointers. Abu Kigab had a double-double, 17 points and 11 rebounds, off the bench, while Brissett contributed 11 points and seven boards for Canada. Team USA's top point scorer was Markelle Fultz with 23. For game boxscore click here.

Canada battled back from an early 15-9 deficit to cut Team USA's lead to 24-23 after one quarter. Wigginton led Team Canada with 8 points in the opening quarter.

The two sides went back and forth in the second quarter, trading baskets and swapping leads before Team USA scored the final seven points of the half to take a 48-44 lead at the break. Abu Kigab, who had already made two three-points in the first quarter, made three more in the second period for Canada.
Walker helped keep Canada close throughout the second half, scoring eight points in both the third and fourth quarters.

Jordan Henry hit a jumper with just under three minutes remaining in the third to pull Canada within six at 65-59, before the Americans finished the frame on a 10-4 run to take a 75-63 lead with 10 minutes to play.

Trailing 80-65, Canada made an inspired comeback attempt, with a 15-2 surge that nearly erased the Americans' lead. Canada got as close as two points, 82-80, midway through the fourth.

Prior to Saturday's contest, Team Canada was 4-0 at Americas. Canada finished first in Group A and defeated Puerto Rico 83-66 in a semi-final on Friday.
By finishing second, Canada equals its all-time best result in the history FIBA Americas U18 Men's Championships, which it achieved with a silver medal in 2014.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Farewell Tim Duncan

There was no farewell tour, countless speaking engagements or a city by city egotistical centre court goodbye followed by a presentation of a useless gift.  There was no special press conference or a show to announce he was taking his talents to the retirement home.  Instead the announcement was made with no ego, no pretentiousness, no “look at me” I accomplished so much in my career bull crap.  When Tim Duncan retired he did it in the classiest way imaginable.  A basic press release was sent out to inform people that after 19 years playing for the San Antonio Spurs he wouldn’t be back.  Then there was a simple personal message signed by Tim to thank the fans, his coaches as well as admitting that looking back there was no way he could have scripted this journey for himself.   

Perhaps the most amazing turn of events was when when Gregg Popovich the Head Coach of the Spurs, who is very well known for avoiding interactions with the press, held a press conference to bid Duncan farewell.  The most amazing part of all was during the process of Pop talking about Tim Duncan he ended up getting emotional and chocked back tears a couple of times. The last thing anyone would describe Pop as is emotional so to see him in that rare form was a testament to their bond with one another. Duncan and Pop have won 1001 games together which is the most of any player/coach combination. They have more wins together than some NBA teams have. 

One of the moments that was incredibly touching was when Coach Pop talked about how people play that hypothetical game about who they would choose to have dinner with out of all sorts of celebrities or world leaders.  Pop said his choice would be to have dinner with Tim because “He’s the most real, consistent, true person I’ve ever met.” He said he is incredibly funny as well as a deep thinker.  

It was also really touching when Pop talked about promising Tim’s dad on his death bed that he would ensure Tim was the same person at the beginning of his NBA journey as at the end of his career.  Everyone would agree that definitely was something Pop was very serious about and was successful in achieving. 

Tim Duncan was very well known for being an amazing teammate.  He cared a lot about his teammates often taking less money in order to have a championship level team.  One of the most special bonds he had was with David Robinson when he first came into the league.  Those two guys seemed from the outside to have an incredible relationship with one another.  Steve Kerr who now coaches with the Golden State Warriors had the opportunity to play with Tim Duncan and said he was a phenomenal teammate and fun to play with.    

A player like Tim Duncan is irreplaceable.  There are a few things I will never forget about watching him over the years.  The first one is with regards to how fundamentally sound he was.  He played basketball in such a unique way in that he had impeccable footwork, used the backboard to bank shots in from the blocks and always had a strong defensive presence.  He had an amazing hook shot and he consistently played a style of basketball that lulled many into thinking he would play forever.  The last thing that I never ever got tired of seeing was when a referee missed or made a call that he didn’t agree with.  This facial expression would come to his face.  Tim Duncan always shows what he thinks by the looks on his face.   

The way he ended his career was similar to how he played it.  He let his game speak for itself.  It is fitting that although Duncan was originally from the Virgin Islands at least some of the Texas cowboy culture over the years must have impacted him.  Duncan chose the perfect Cowboy ending for his amazing basketball career in that he just simply did what all the best cowboys do he rode off into the sunset.  So long Timmy you will be missed greatly!

Sunday, 10 July 2016

No Canada

It is really disappointing to watch the Canadian Senior Men’s National Team falter after getting to the Final for the Olympic qualifier in the Philippines this morning.  They got all the way to the Final in Manila missing many of their NBA players which would have definitely given a powerful boost to end off the tournament with a trip to the Rio Olympics on the line.  The last time Canada went to the Olympics was in 2000 when Steve Nash seemingly single handedly willed the team to victory by orchestrating the team’s success at many turns.  The analysis of this last game was that not much has changed since those days in many ways because it seemed to be a very similar style of game.  Just subtract Nash add in Corey Joseph and it looked like it was a one man show.  The effort was definitely there in many of the games throughout the tournament but today there was a noticeable difference in the level of play especially once the defence picked up for France.  The defensive effort was less than impressive for Canada.  The costly turnovers and mental lapses at the end of quarters in this final game were the critical elements that ended Canada’s Olympic dreams today.  The clock wasn’t managed properly and it lead to some key momentum swings that benefitted France.      

France was a tough opponent in this morning’s game.  They got solid performances from their NBA veterans Tony Parker and Boris Diaw.  Tony Parker really put his finger prints on the game realizing this may be the last time that he will represent his country at the Olympic level.  He also is waiting for the birth of his second child any day now.  He and his wife decided together that he would be part of the qualifying tournament as well as the Olympics so it was evident in his play that there was something more he was playing for.  Very few life events trump the birth of a child. So, when that is on the line the ability to dig deep really becomes evident.   

Many of the Canadian NBA players that opted not to play in the qualifying tournament had their own reasons.  It is hard to judge them as the circumstances are different for each one of them.  In some cases injuries are to blame like Kelly Olynyk who just had shoulder surgery or a new contract in the case of Andrew Nicholson who was a big time difference maker in the Pan Am games last summer.  Jamal Murray is a rookie coming out of the draft and his contract wasn’t signed in time for him to be on the roster for Canada this year.  Other players like Andrew Wiggins, Dwight Powell, Nik Stauskas and Robert Sacre are trying to solidify their positions on the rosters of their current teams which are in flux for various reasons.  Each of these players are probably dealing in pressurized situation of competing at a very high level.  Some players such as Trey Lyles were not allowed to play due to their NBA team locking all the international players down to focus on the upcoming NBA season.  

Some excuses to the outside world might seem lame and disappointing especially when you see a player like Tony Parker coming out to represent his country when his wife is due to have a baby.  He is nearing the end of his career but clearly he finds value in not only representing his country.  He is probably focusing on sharpening his skills, learning some new things but most importantly providing leadership to new players coming up.  It isn’t always as cut and dry as to why players don’t represent their country.  It needs to be noted that the players may be dealing with political situations with their NBA organizations not being as supportive as the country may hope.  These leaders may not necessarily view international experience and success as positive. Instead it may be seen as a detractor and putting more “miles on an athlete” or increase risks they view as unnecessary.  These athlete they are investing millions of dollars into can cause the owners to get proprietary.  I have heard people criticize these players for their absence and it has to be said it must be a tough choice to make (if it is even their choice). There is a joy in representing your country but there are also inherent risks as well of injuries a lot of money is on the line and with that comes more layers of choices to navigate. USA basketball probably deals with the very same thing but because they are so deep with the number of athletes they can draw on the impact isn’t felt as much.    

Now with Steve Nash at the helm of the Men’s National Team program if he can’t reach this crop of new players to come out and play for the Canadian National team then maybe it just can’t be done.  The focus might need to be shift to build a different relationship with the players sooner and before they get to the NBA level.  Perhaps the draw is the development of other players who will benefit from the international experience.  Let’s be honest Canada has no shortage of talent at the moment we are a big time hot bed for basketball.  Maybe the draw needs to be the development and experience piece.  Melvin Ejim really showed his worth in an consistent effort throughout the qualifying tournament and in past events.  Anthony Bennett has used his Pan Am  experience and this qualifying tournament to breathe life back into his faltering career.  The Scrubb brothers had moments of promise over the course of the tournament.  It was nice to see Tyler Ennis make an appearance in this tournament.  Maybe instead of focusing on guys who are already at the NBA level and who got there without the National Team’s “help” the focus needs to be on the up and coming guys that could use the experience to get to the next level. This is happening to some degree already with the presence of some of the players that were selected on the team this time around like Shai Alexander who plays for the Florida Gators and Jamal Murray last year before he went to Kentucky.  It is also happening with the players that are coming up through the ranks of the Cadet and Junior National Teams.  

The women’s national team has been seeing some success as of late with a steady representation of athletes that keep coming back over time.  This loyalty is missing from the men’s side of the game.  It is incredibly hard to have success when there is a revolving door of different athletes coming in and out for these events.  The ability to solidify a chemistry as well as learning offensive and defensive systems in only a few weeks is incredibly challenging for any team and coaching staff.  It is yet another layer to add on to a pressure filled situation. Maybe adding in more training camps and those types of elements into the men’s program will help to keep the continuity and loyalty growing for them over the next couple of years.  The chance to learn from Jay Triano, Steve Nash and Rowan Barrett has to be a huge draw on some level for these players.  

As a side note it must be said that the loyalty and patriotism Tristan Thompson showed after winning the NBA Championship this year was incredibly inspiring.  Seeing him play in the qualifying tournament was really special and there is no doubt that he is one of the biggest difference makers in terms of doing the little things that kept the team in these games consistently.  If nothing else this tournament showed that Canada Basketball is back on the rise it is just going to take some more commitment and time to get going in the right direction still though. It was going to be a long shot to make it back to the olympics through this style of tournament as it was.  This team had a chance to qualify for Rio earlier, with many of the NBA athletes that missed this time around, they lost to Venezuela by 1 point.  It seems that perhaps participating in the Olympics isn't a goal for these athletes currently hopefully that will change over time. The truth remains if our best players aren’t in the conversation to represent our country it is going to be incredibly hard to make an impact at the International level. Consistency and chemistry can be the difference makers but the commitment to each other is something that needs to be a priority with this group.  

Monday, 4 July 2016

Life Lessons from My "Old School" Sports Dad

I really liked this Life Lesson from My "Old School" Sports Dad blog that I found on Changing the Game Project so I thought I would share this with you.  

I remember the conversation like it was yesterday.
I was a sophomore in high school, and I was mad. I was offended. I was aggrieved… I had been benched.

When I got home from school, I wanted someone to tell me how I was right, and the coach was wrong. I wanted someone to tell me that I was great, and my teammates who had replaced me were not. I wanted someone to validate my feelings..

Luckily for me, I had chosen to have my “woe is me” talk with my dad. He was an old school guy, born and raised in the Bronx. He had been forced to retire from his dream job — the NY City Fire Department — after destroying his back during a fire. Life had been good to him, and tough to him, and he certainly wasn’t intending to make it easy on me.

His goal wasn’t to make me feel better that day. His goal was to make me BE better.

“John,” he said, “regardless of whether you think your coach is right or wrong, regardless of whether you think you are better or worse than your teammates, that is really all beside the point.”

I sat quietly. You do not interrupt my dad.
“The question you have to ask yourself is ‘have I done everything in my control to earn a starting spot?’”

I thought about it. “Yes, I’m better than those guys,” I protested.

“That is not what I am talking about,” he said. “That’s one man’s opinion. Here are some things that are not. Do you show up early and do extra work? Do you stay after and work on your game, or even run laps and improve your fitness? Do you pick up the cones when training is done? Have you gotten up before school yet this season to do extra work on the track, or against the kick back wall?”

“No,” I answered, not liking where this was heading.

“Well, until you have done anything and everything you can do to show your coach and teammates beyond any doubt who deserves to be out there, you have nothing to complain about. I suggest you get back to work and leave your coach no choice but to put you in, because right now he clearly has a choice.”

Conversation: TERMINATED.

This was a defining moment for me as an athlete. Our relationship was not always rosy when it came to sports, There were certainly other things he said and did that did not affect me in a positive manner. For whatever reason, though, this lesson had the desired effect. From that day forward, as a high school, collegiate and professional player, I always believed that I had nothing to say until my actions spoke first. It was up to me to leave no doubt. In the words of inspirational former Cornell Lacrosse player George Boiardi, as told by Jon Gordon in his great book The Hard Hat: 21 Ways to be a Great Teammate, 

“Well done is better than well said.”

I get a lot of emails and inquiries about kids ‘playing out of position,’ about being ‘forced’ to play for a tough coach and struggling for playing time. Since the recent changes in US Soccer birth years, I have heard a ton about kids having difficulties adapting to new teammates and age groups. And I get it.
As a parent, I worry about my kids and how they will react to adversity. I get anxious when they encounter difficulty, when they are pushed extremely hard, and when they want to give up. I get frustrated when they struggle. I get scared that my December birthday daughter is at a disadvantage now in soccer due to her relative age. I don’t like to see them fail, because deep down, every time they fail it feels like a part of me is failing, and that doesn’t sit very well with me.
Yes, I want to intervene. I want to help them feel better, just like I wanted to feel better.
And then I catch myself. I think what would my dad say?
My parents were great supporters of my sporting journey, and in honor of Father’s Day, I wanted to share a bit of my dad’s wisdom that extended well beyond the soccer field, the wrestling mat, and the baseball diamond.
Here are ten lessons my dad taught me in sports that have carried me through life:
1 As Confucius says, “Do not worry that no one knows you; seek to be worth knowing”In other words, until you have done everything in your power to influence a situation, quit whining and start doing.
2 Be coachable: Be a great listener, pay attention, and do what the coach tells you, even when you see others doing the opposite and being rewarded for it
3 If you are going to do something, do it right: Make a commitment and fulfill it. Do more than is asked, not simply the bare minimum required for participation. You can go fishing, go to that party, and go skiing when your commitment is done, but until then you owe it to your teammates to be all in.
4 Be honest: When someone asks your opinion, tell the truth. It is not always easy, and it is not always fun, but one day you will have a reputation as a person who others can go to when they need a hard, honest truth, not just someone who makes you feel better. The former is a true friend, and the other is just a fan. Be a friend.
5 Shake hands, look people in the eye, and say “thank you:” This demonstrates respect to coaches, officials and other people who have taken the time and effort to make your game, and your sport, possible.
6 Be patient: Being really good at anything is a marathon. Some people may grow before you, and thus be bigger, faster and taller than you, but so what? That will all eventually even out, and then what? Will you be a better player, or someone who gave up because life didn’t hand you all the breaks right away?
7 Embrace both failure and success: You want to do your best to win, but what matters more than the scoreboard is how you learned and developed. Don’t ignore mistakes because you won, and don’t dwell on them because you lost. Everyone makes mistakes, so you might as well make them trying to make a play, instead of trying not to make mistakes.
8 Don’t slouch and pout: Your body language and your attitude matter. They affect how coaches, teammates and others perceive you, and if you are going to be a leader, no one really cares how you are feeling right now. Suck it up and be positive.
9 Don’t hold a grudge: My dad coached high school soccer in various capacities for 17 years, and then was unceremoniously fired one season after a couple of parental complaints. I say unceremoniously because most years he donated his coaching salary to the school scholarship fund to help needy athletes. He bought equipment when the school had no budget. He ran extra training in the off season at no charge to players or families. It broke his heart when he was let go, and yet the next year he once again donated to the school scholarship fund. I asked him why. “They do a lot of good for so many kids,” he said. “It’s not those kids fault, and they should not be the ones who suffer.”
10 Be humble: Whether you win or lose, be humble. It’s just a game, and today was your day. Tomorrow might be theirs. Respect the officials, coaches, and your opponents, because chances are you will see them again someday beyond the sports field, and what you do on it will affect how they think of you.

Mark Twain once said “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
My dad is 81 this year, and he sure has learned a lot!

In all seriousness, though, my dad’s health has not been that great recently, and I have come to value and enjoy our conversations and our time together so much more. I wish I paid better attention when I was younger. He has taught me a lot about sports, and about life. I use those ten lessons above everyday in coaching, in running a business, in my marriage, and most importantly in my interaction with my own children. They don’t always like it, and they don’t always want it.

But they do often need it, and hopefully they will thank me someday, just as I am doing today.

Thanks Dad. For everything.