St. Catherine’s, Canada – Deena Spivak couldn’t hide her own butterflies. “ They are so nervous,” was her assessment during Ecuador’s shoot around before their encounter with the well- oiled hosts from Canada. The subject of her observation were twelve young men from Ecuador. They had arrived on Canadian soil to defend their national pride during a regional tournament in which eight teams converged in St. Catharines. Only four would garnish a place in the upcoming U19 World Championships next year. Unofficially, Spivak was the South Americans’ den mother throughout the tournament – always an ear shot away to assist. Officially she was the team’s attaché – a volunteer assignment given to her by Canada Basketball. Internalizing the pressures of the young players she was asked to oversee, during a week that hosted the region’s elite basketball countries, seemed to be a workplace hazard. “How could I not be nervous,” was Spivak’s retort to the writer’s query. “They are all great kids.”
Ecuador qualified for the FIBA Americas tournament after capturing third place in South America behind Continental powers Argentina and the fast climbing Chileans. The FIBA U18 Americas Championship was the country’s first foray into a FIBA mainstream international basketball event since participating in the 1950 World Championships hosted in Argentina. Basketball has been alive in Ecuador but always shaded away by the national obsession and tribalism of soccer. During times of economic prosperity the Liga Ecuatoriana de Balancesto, Ecuador’s top professional league, was a common stopover for many talented American players and a place to garnish a reasonable pay cheque for Venezuelans, Columbians, Peruvians and Chileans. Recently, the country’s economic struggles have resulted in a brain drain of local talent while many other imported mercenaries are electing to take their talents elsewhere.
For Ecuadorian U18 Head Coach John Escalante, a high school Phys Ed teacher at an American school in Quito who shares his time as a Provincial Head Coach, the task of recruiting 12 of the country’s best young players to compete with some of the planet’s more talented basketball players was daunting. No easy undertaking for a country split into 24 provinces in three distinct racial divides. Escalante , his oversized glasses that consumed his never ending frown and his fiery disposition, looks every part coach , teacher and master tactician. But he takes pride in the fact that all 12 players who represented Ecuador were Ecuadorian by birth right. A few countries in the tournament in St. Catharines had naturalized players who held passports of countries other than the ones they were representing on the hardwood.
Coach Escalante just didn’t drop into coaching overnight. His father was a basketball coach, his uncle coached the game and his brother was once considered the best player in the country. To carry on with the family tradition he has coached the game for 30 years and from all indications he has many more years left on his clipboard. When describing his own coaching philosophy Escalante stated: “straight to the hole with my guards shooting threes to compensate for our size.”
Luis Riascos, a tall lanky wing, has been an anomaly among his Ecuadorian peers. Riascos was verbally offered a scholarship to play in the United States during the South American qualifying in Lima, Peru. For Michael Moncayo it has been a life- long dream to take his impressive guard skills to either an American University or to Europe. While representing Ecuador in St. Catharines the 5’10” Moncayo filled up the box scores with an array of offensive stats and feared no guard on the other side of the ball. Moncayo thrived under the spotlight. The 17 year old Moncayo and his 16 year old brother Mateo formed a significant part of the Ecuadorian team’s back court. Both brothers learned the game during their formative years from their father in Macas, a small agricultural community in the shadows of the rainforest. Basketball was well rooted in this community of just over 19,000 and the elder Moncayo was a basketball coach who shared his wealth of basketball experience with his two sons. Michael started playing competitively at the age of eight while Mateo when he was six years old. Both boys were significant cogs within Club Iccan de Macas, a team that captured a national club title in 2017.
Young Ecuadorian players are identified for national team duty through the ‘intercolegial’, a long high school tournament that is completed throughout each province. From those competitions players are selected by Provincial coaches to compete in national team pools. Provincial coaches further select players as the final group suitable to represent Ecuador. The pool for the U18 team was moved to Quito where they were housed together and trained three to four days a week. Training sessions and scrimmages regularly attracted several hundred onlookers at Julio Cesar Hidalgo Coliseum – one of Ecuador’s two main basketball stadiums. For Coach Escalante he would liked to have seen more resources placed into his team’s preparation. He is concerned that basketball in Ecuador deserves more resources as compared to soccer which always seems to get the attention of the politicians. Escalante reported that basketball is a significant growth activity among young people within Ecuador’s changing sports culture. “Basketball will never overtake soccer as Ecuador’s most popular sport but it is now 2nd in the country,” announced a man who has dedicated his life to seeing basketball get it’s rightly dues. “Kids at all age levels now want to be part of a national team,’” he stated.
Six games in seven days and the boys from Ecuador failed to post a victory as debutants in their FIBA initiation. But the new pioneers from South America certainly left Canadian soil knowing that a return engagement to any FIBA competition is not out of the realm of possibilities for teams representing Ecuador. Their baptism by fire will leave a legacy for young Ecuadorian players to follow.
Canada draws tough group for 2020 FIBA Olympic Qualifier
Canada’s Senior Men’s National Basketball (SMNT) faces a tough road to the 2020 Olympic tournament after drawing stiff competition at the official qualifying draw in Switzerland.
No. 21 Canada will play in tough group A in Victoria, British Columbia against No. 7 ranked Greece and reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Team Canada will also face rising No. 24 China. Group B features No. 43 Uruguay, No. 10 Czech Republic, No. 15 Turkey.
Canada will need to win the last minute Olympic qualifying tournament at home to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic games.
The top two teams in each group advance to the semi-finals in a crossover game. The tournament runs from July 23-28. The top four teams from each tournament will advance to Tokyo and will join an already impressive field that includes hosts Japan, Argentina, Australia, France, Spain, Iran, Nigeria and the United States.
The Czech Republic finished in sixth-place at the recently completed 32-team World Cup in China with a record of 4-4 — with losses coming to the USA 88-67, Greece (84-77), Australia (82-70) and Serbia (90-81). Greece missed out on a top 10 finish after a disappointing 3-2 showing. Turkey showed flashes of brilliance finishing a spot below Canada at 22 with a 2-3 record — losing a close 93-92 group game against the USA.
China also finished with a 2-3 record dropping close games to Poland (79-76), Venezuela (72-59) and Nigeria 86-73. Uruguay, the lowest ranked team of the six is the only team that didn’t qualify for the World Cup.
The six teams coming to Victoria this summer all feature proven NBA star-power, headlined by the Hellas’ Giannis Antekonmpo. The Czech Republic has crafty Chicago Bulls point guard Tomas Satoranksy and Turkey also boasts power forward Ersan Ilyasova of the Milwaukee Bucks, point guard Ceidi Osman of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Furkan Korkmaz of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Despite the growing global NBA player presence – it is Canada that features the most international players in the world’s best league. After a disappointing 2-3 showing at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, Team Canada is expected to put together it’s best roster in years’ — already garnering early official social media commitments from two of Canada’s rising stars. Denver Nuggets’ Jamal Murray and OKC Thunder Shai Gilgeous-Alexander have officially announced their intentions. Dillon Brooks of the Memphis Grizzlies, Khem Birch of the Orlando Magic and New Orleans Pelicans’ guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker have also made it clearly evident that they will be on hand to help Canada end it’s 20-year summer Olympics drought that dates back to 2000.
Canada will kick-off the tournament against Greece on June 23rd and will play China the next day with a rest day in-between — before the semi-finals on June 27.
One thing to keep in consideration is the proximity of the qualifying tournament to the NBA Finals. Game 1 on the 2020 NBA Finals is set for Thursday June 4th 2020 and if stretched the distance it will run until Sunday June 21st leaving only two days before the start of the crucial tournament. Both the Milwaukee Bucks and the Toronto Raptors are amongst the favorites to win the Eastern Conference and should they reach the NBA finals it will be interesting to see how it will affect player turnout and other last minute decisions.
Canada’s coaching staff is led by Raptors’ head coach Nick Nurse, Greece recently appointed former Kentucky Wildcats head coach Rick Pitino.
Canada failed to reach the 2016 Rio Olympics via the FIBA qualification tournament, falling to eventual fourth-place finisher France in a hard-fought 83-74 battle in Manila, Philippines.
Lance Stephenson Makin’ ‘Em Dance In China
Remade in China.
From playing with LeBron and the Lakers last season. To getting an early start in the Far East for this one. Getting in opponents faces like he used to do when he went up against the King. Blow in his face all you want…but its just hot air.
Lance Stephenson is back baby!
Like you’ve never seen him before. Running his town in China for the Liaoning Flying Leopards.
To quote Charlie Murphy talking about Prince in an infamous Hollywood stories episode of Dave’s ‘Chappelle Show’, “this cat can (still) ball man”!
To those who think a couple of strings have popped off Stephenson’s guitar then just watch him play and strum along. Lance is still makin’ ’em dance with the NBA’s most famous celebration…except the league just lost it and one of their premier performers and fondly favourite, cult celebrities in the amazing association of epic entertainment.
Turns out the Lakers should have held on to their veteran big name meme team a little longer. Although they did re-up with pure point Rondo running the show and the centre who should start in JaVale McGee. But in not keeping one of their biggest bench presence spark plugs of camaraderie and chemistry since the days of Rony Turiaf or even Mad Dog, Mark Madsen, this is almost as heart-breaking as losing all the kids in the Hollywood divorce for Anthony Davis. But we love reunions almost as much as we love redemption in this league and with BIG3 MVP Joe Johnson inking a deal with Detroit that is going to see the Motor City Pistons assembly line cut former Laker Michael Beasley. We may just see this fellow wild card, big contributing star head back to the Chinese league he finished out the season with like he hasn’t just flown home already. We know one Leopard who would welcome him with back open paws and any other player with a name beyond a meme, not caring if he never changes his spots.
Just when you thought Ice Cube’s inspired BIG3 was the only prescribed route for former NBA players to EA get back in the game like museum exits via the gift shop then check out this exhibit. You only have to check a FIBA feed and see how France French kissed the United States out said tournament a year before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in Japan to see that this game is truly global. It’s far more than just the United States. It’s the whole wide, watching and welcoming world. And one of the biggest hubs like everything in this world from business, to commerce and innovation is in China. Now that’s some development even the G-League can’t give you old man.
Coney Island’s own legend Stephon Marbury became an icon here, remaining after he retired…and this guy was a superstar under the Times Square, World’s Most Famous Arena lights of being a New York Knick in the Madison Square Garden of hallowed hoops Eden.
Are you listening Carmelo?
You too Dwight…give it a couple of months.
With 35 and 10, double decadence in the playoffs, Lance just put an end to San Miguel like last orders at the bar and now next rounds on him as he mime guitars until the fat lady falsettos in her stilettos to everyone raising a glass in toast.
The all dunking and big shot scoring player looks like he’s stepped into a rejuvenation machine…until you see just how much he afforded with his spare chance minutes last year on the biggest stage in Hollywood. He looks like he’s having a Swayze. And Chinese Basketball in turn the time of its life.
All Stephenson needed was another chance. And boy is he taking it right now. At this point Lance will be back in the league before you can say “it’s opening night at the STAPLES Center.” But at this point would he even want back, causing big trouble in a not so little China?
(As a matter of fact after press Lance Stephenson lead his Leopards over Seoul to win both the Terrific 12 and the tournament MVP…like Jay what more can we say?)
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