Follow the World Cup on Facebook
Ejim: ''Deep Canada spreading love of the game to whole country''
KAZAN (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Americas Qualifiers) - Canada are knocking on the door of qualifying for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 and a major reason why, according to Melvin Ejim, is the country's depth that is showing strong in the Americas Qualifiers.
Canada top Group F with a 7-1 record following September 2018 window victories at home over Brazil and in Chile.
"Being able to finish the window at 2-0 was great. It put us in a position to control our own destiny," said Ejim, who picked up 14 points and 3 rebounds in the 85-77 win over the Brazilians and added 9 points, 7 rebound and 3 assists in the 84-61 triumph against Chile.
Against Brazil, Canada built up a lead in the first half and were able to hold on to it - especially important because Brazil came into the game with the same record in the group at 5-1.
"We really played to our strengths, our versatility, ball movement and athleticism. They are a good veteran team and we were able to get the win at the end. It was a well fought game," the 27-year-old Ejim said. "Anytime you can win at home it’s great, but we knew the importance of winning against them with the record being tied."
But the September job was only done when Ejim and co. beat Chile on the road.
"To make that Brazil game count we needed to take care of business in Chile. We knew what was expected of us but Chile didn’t go down without a fight. It was a great atmosphere and a true road game," Ejim said.
The 6ft 7in (2.01m) forward has played in three of the four windows and has had many different teammates in those games. All told, Canada have used 32 players in the four windows - not to mention three different head coaches with Roy Rana, Gordon Herbert and Jay Triano. But the North Americans did not miss a beat in showing that great depth.
"I feel like we learned that we have a vast depth of players ready to answer the nation’s call at any time," said Ejim, who is averaging 13.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists in the Qualifiers. "Canada has the talent and we are in the process of proving ourselves on the national stage, but there is no doubt that there is a huge amount of talent in and coming out of Canada when it comes to basketball."
Canada fans in Laval near Montreal came out to support the team in a crucial game against Brazil.
And Canada Basketball has done a good job showing that depth to the whole country. The September Qualifier was in Laval near Montreal after previous games in Halifax, Toronto and Ottawa.
"I think being able to play all these games at home is a blessing. We are able to represent our country in our country while spreading our love for the game in front of all our family friends and supporters," said Ejim, a native of Toronto.
While Toronto is already a well-known market, Quebec is slowly starting to produce more and more talent as well.
"Quebec has always had some hidden gems, but I think much like Ontario the nation is beginning to see the fruits of a vibrant basketball culture there," Ejim said.
Canada are shooting to return to the FIBA Basketball World Cup after missing 2014. And the chances of making China 2019 are good as Canada are 7-1 in the group, even with Venezuela, while Brazil are 6-2 and Dominican Republic 5-3.
"We try not to look back but only forward. We are trying to finish on top of our pool and the only thing we will be focusing on is trying to do that," Ejim said. "We can talk about the World Cup once we get there. We are not trying to get ahead of ourselves but we know we have the talent to get there and do well."
First up is the next window with Canada facing two challenging road games - at Venezuela on November 30 and at Brazil on December 3.
"The next two games will be tough games in very hostile environments. We will need to be ready mentally and physically to beat these teams on their home turf. But we continue to work hard, do what we do," Ejim said.
That is win games - with an impressive display of depth.