01 - 09
July 2017
Canada or Italy - who answers the call from destiny
to read

Canada or Italy - who answers the call from destiny

CAIRO (FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2017) - A seventh first-time champion of the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup will be crowned in Egypt as either Italy or Canada will answer the call from destiny and hoist the U19 trophy to the heavens for the first time in their history in a final that few expected but all can anticipate as a true battle.

Both teams have reached their date with history with plenty of highs and lows along their way to the Cairo Stadium Indoor Halls Complex.

Canada arrived at the tournament saying they didn't want to hear about the players who aren't in Egypt - and there are some big-time guys not here - and wanted to focus on the task at hand.

After racing past Mali in the opener, Canada then got knocked off in the group stage by Spain and ended up being sent to the half of the bracket with the United States looming in the Semi-Finals should they even get past the Quarter-Finals for the first time in their history. That final eight matchup proved to be a strong France team and the young Canadians - five players are bottom level players including burgeoning superstar RJ Barrett - prevailed masterfully.

Then came the mighty neighbors to the south, United States - a country Canada have been working at trying to beat for years now because they know they must given that they are together in FIBA Americas. Barrett was breathtaking - just like against France - and has already etched his name in the annals of history in Canada basketball with 38 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists as the United States could not stop him. Abu Kigab has been Barrett's biggest partner in crime, especially in the last two games with starting point guard Lindell Wigginton unable to play.

Italy, for their part, came to Cairo missing their top player who got them to Egypt. Point guard Davide Moretti was the calming influence that guided the Italians to third place at the FIBA U18 European Championship 2016 and was named to the All-Star Five. Luckily, head coach Andrea Capobianco was left with a trio of guards in Lorenzo Penna, Davide Denegri and Michele Antelli who make up for their lack of height - all three are 6ft 0in (1.84m) or less - with a huge portion heart and guile.

The Italians, who arrived in Cairo just the day before the tournament started, struggled out of the gate against Angola in their opener and also gave up 98 points in a Group Phase loss to the United States. Italy needed essentially a buzzer beater to fend off Japan in the Round of 16 and then did what many thought was the unthinkable in slowing the offensive juggernaut Lithuania in the Quarter-Finals. The Italians then came back from a 16-point deficit to beat long-time European rivals Spain in the Semi-Finals.

Italy have been at this point one time in history, having reached the 1991 final, where they lost to the United States. The Italian players were at least seven years from even being born in 1991, but they have experienced a re-emergence of Italy as a basketball power after some time of struggles. And this Italian team will battle and scrape and claw until the end.

Whatever happens, we will see a first-time winner in Cairo.

Key Matchups: The Italian team vs RJ Barrett. Neither France nor the United States were able to slow down Canada's top star. And Italian head coach Andrea Capobianco probably had nightmares of Barrett driving to the basket - if he even slept at all. The main options of guarding Barrett should be Italian captain Lorenzo Bucarelli, Tommaso Oxilia or Alessandro Pajola. But Barrett has been great at drawing fouls - shooting 26 free throws in the last two games (with 21 makes). Besides the small playmakers, Italy do have some size and it would be important if they could get some offensive production from the likes of Andrea Mezzanotte, Guglielmo Caruso and Alessandro Simioni.

Key Stats: Canada have scored 87.2 points a game - third most in the competition - while Italy are 12th at just 65.8 ppg. Make no mistake, this is a contrast of two styles - Canada like to get out and run a bit while Italy pass it around the team and make you work on defense. Italy don't shoot the ball well - 14th in the competition at 32 percent - but they don't give it up either with just 14.0 turnovers a game, the second-best in the event while Canada are 8th at 17.2 a game.

X-Factor: Let's call this "Avoiding a let down" - Canada have accomplished one of the biggest - if not THE biggest - feats in men’s basketball in their country. They knocked off the mighty United States. So now they have to come back down to the ground - just a day later - and have a chance for their first title.

"I think our kids understand the opportunity that we have in front of us. Hopefully the excitement of this win will spill over to another just energetic and passionate performance for our country tomorrow. I think they’ll be ready."Roy Rana (Canada head coach)Roy Rana (Canada head coach)
"We are here to dream and that’s exactly what we're doing, living a dream."Andrea Capobianco (Italy head coach)Andrea Capobianco (Italy head coach)