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Will AJ be this years RJ for 'short-handed' Canada at the U19 World Cup?
REGENSBURG (David Hein’s Eye on the Future) - Canada shocked the globe when they won the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2017, especially because of the big names missing in Cairo. The Canadians are short-handed once again for the U19 World Cup 2019 in Greece. Can the next red-and-white superhero have the initials AJ, following in RJ's footsteps?
RJ Barrett pulled off his best Superman impression in carrying Canada to the title two summers ago. Barrett's out-of-this-world performance in the Egyptian capital was needed because head coach Roy Rana was missing some huge names.
Not in Cairo were the 1998-born players O'Shae Brissett, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jahvon Henry-Blair and Nickeil Walker - all of whom played at the FIBA U18 Americas Championship 2016. On top of that, Rana did not have any of the following talents from the fantastic 1999 generation - Emmanuel Akot, Ignas Brazdeikis, Marcus Carr, Lugentz Dort, Jaelin Llewellyn, Quincy Querrier, Stefan Smith and Simi Shittu.
When you take into account all of the guys who were not in Cairo, that makes it all that much more surprising that Canada were able to win. Oh, and RJ Barrett was two years younger than the rest of the competition - yes, that means the projected top-three pick in this week's NBA Draft would be eligible to play for Canada in Heraklion.
Canada were also fighting to get over their personal boogey man - disguised as the Quarter-Finals, the point at which the red-and-white had been beaten in three of the previous four U19 World Cups.
Barrett, fellow All-Star Five member Abu Kigab as well as Lindell Wigginton and the rest of the 2017 Canada team had to regularly answer questions about the players who were not in Cairo. The Canadians heading to Heraklion to try to defend the title might face some of those same questions.
Andrew Nembhard was expected to be one of the major leaders of Dan Vanhooren's team in Heraklion after making the All-Star Five of the FIBA U18 Americas Championship 2018. But the point guard will not be on hand. Neither will be Emanuel Miller, the other 2000-born player in addition to RJ Barrett at the last U19 World Cup.
Those are the main no-shows of the 2000-born group. Among the top players from the 2001 generation who are not in Europe are Addison Patterson, Cashius McNeilly, Josh Hemmings, Shemar Rathan-Mayes and Luka Sakota.
Just like Rana and co. in Cairo, Vanhooren and his troops will not be worried about who is not there. Their draw for Heraklion is tough enough already - with Australia, Latvia and Mali in Group B. Then waiting in the Round of 16 is the crossover Group A with Lithuania, New Zealand, Senegal or United States.
Oh, and the Canadians will have the target of reigning champs on their backs.
So, who will be the main guys to step up for Vanhooren?
ON POINT ON LOCATION: @CanBball U19 practice prior to the team leaving for Exhibition games in France then on to Greece for the FIBA U19 Worlds. Drew Ebanks speaks to @ItsAJLawson of @GamecockMBB @FIBA #canball #onpoint #FIBAU19wc #FIBA pic.twitter.com/1eRffB4s8G— OnPointBasketball (@DrewEbanks) June 20, 2019
Four Canadians scored 14 points or more at the FIBA U18 Americas Championship 2018. Three of them (Miller, Nembhard and Patterson) will not be in Heraklion - leaving Lawson and his 14.8 points as the team's main leading scorer. He shot 44 percent from three-point range while also collecting 5.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.2 assists. The 6ft 7in (2.00m) guard also excelled at the collegiate level in the United States. He averaged 13.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists at South Carolina in his first season after playing for the highly-acclaimed Montverde Academy. Lawson's performance earned him a spot on the Southeastern Conference (SEC) All-Freshmen Team. Lawson also put his name in the 2019 NBA Draft before withdrawing it at the last moment to head back to South Carolina for his sophomore season. Without the likes of Nembhard, Miller and Patterson, Vanhooren will rely on Lawson to do that much more on offense.
Lawson will not be alone though. Also back from last summer's U18 team and ready to take more responsibility are Joel Brown, the Bediako brothers Charles and Jaden, Jahcobi Neath and Tyrese Samuel. Samuel’s teammate at the famed Orangeville Prep is Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe, who showed what he can do at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2018, where he teamed up with Charles Bediako and Keon Ambrose-Hylton.
The 13-man preliminary roster - with which Vanhooren is travelling to Europe for Canada’s final preparations and two exhibition games against New Zealand and France - also includes five players who have never played a FIBA competition and will be hungry to show what they can do: Thomas Kennedy, Karim Mane, Adam Paige, Josh Primo and Damion Squire.
Canada's teams have traditionally been dominated by players from the state of Ontario, which includes the basketball hotbed Toronto. Among the 13 players are nine from Ontario with three from Quebec - Mane, Samuel and Squire - and one from British Columbia - Paige. So there will be extra motivation for the likes of Mane, Paige and Squire: showing they are worthy of their spot on Team Canada and representing other parts of the country looking for their respect as well.
Sure, there will be questions about missing this player or that guy. But RJ Barrett and co. came up with their own answers. Now we get to see what rebuttals AJ Lawson and co. have in Heraklion.
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