Canada's men didn't accomplish their mission at the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship of staying in the hunt for the London Games. In a very tough tournament in Mar del Plata, Argentina, they came in sixth. Hosts Argentina beat Brazil in a star-studded gold-medal game with both sides advancing to the Olympics. The Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela finished third, fourth and fifth and booked spots in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (July 2-8).
No one should draw the conclusion that Canada's future is bleak, however.If anything, it’s as bright as ever. Canada big man Levon Kendall, who competes in Spain’s Liga Endesa with Blusens Monbus, told FIBA.com: “There are a lot of great young players coming up, as you can see with some of the guys drafted (in the NBA) this year. That's what we need to do as a country in order to compete at a high level, to develop young players, starting with when they are kids and bring them all the way up."
Canada have no shortage of young talent. Corey Joseph was selected in the first round of last year’s draft by the San Antonio Spurs after spending a freshman season with the Texas Longhorns. In Mar del Plata, the 1.93m point guard played an average of 19.5 minutes per contest. He is 20, the same age as Tristan Thompson, the fourth overall pick in last year’s draft by Cleveland. Like Joseph, Thompson also turned professional after his freshman season at Texas where he averaged more than 13 points per game.
At 27, Kendall is just entering his prime so he still has a very important role to play in the national side. He is one of three Canadians competing in the Liga Endesa, with Andy Rautins having recently joined high-fliers Lucentum Alicante and Carl English on the books of Cajasol Sevilla. Kendall, who played college basketball in America for Pittsburgh, left that physical league for another one in Greece, but is now in his second season at Blusens. “Spain is great,” he said. “I’m having a good time here for the most part. Obviously this year is a pretty big change from last year when we were dominating (in the LEB) and this year we’re struggling a little bit.”
“I definitely feel a little more comfortable here, get along with the coach (Moncho Fernández) quite well,” he said.“He’s got faith in my ability, so I feel more comfortable in that respect, for sure. I think my style fits better in Spain (than Greece), where it’s a little more upbeat, up tempo. The ACB was always my goal because I felt like it would be a good fit and it’s a great league but I somehow had always ended up in big bruiser, physical leagues, which is exactly the opposite of how I play. Spain is physical, but it’s a little faster.”
Kendall knows what it’s like to deal with injuries, too. “My last year in Greece, I dislocated my ankle and I had been playing well that year,” he said. “I had to come into the second division in Spain just to get my foot in the door, but I think there are lots of opportunities here and if I keep playing well and keep improving, there are going to be a lot of teams that will be offering me a job in the ACB (Liga Endesa).”
What next for Canada?
Coach Leo Rautins decided not to continue with the national team after last year, and the federation has yet to name a replacement. "Leo for whatever reason, he didn't specify, said he felt like it was time for a change and respectfully stepped down,” Kendall said. "He felt that something different needed to happen, which we all respected. He's put in a lot of time as a player and as a coach, so we'll see. I've not heard any rumors of what might happen.”
Kendall would have loved the chance to play at the Olympics but that will not happen in London. "This summer will be a little bit of an off summer,” he said. “Some of the veterans are going to take some time off, including myself.
"We didn't qualify for the Olympics, but there will be some friendlies and stuff like that. t will be a good chance for the young kids to get some experience, the guys who are following in the veterans' footsteps.
“And there is also going to be a new coach hired as well, so there will be some transition in that respect.” With veterans coming back for the 2013 FIBA Americas Championship and a lot of young talent, there is cause for optimism, but Kendall knows nothing is going to be given to Canada.Everything on the basketball court has to be earned.
"The international level has really increased across the board,” he said. "That's what everybody talks about, and it's really true. We've got the pieces, there are a couple of things that are missing here and there and it's hard to pinpoint exactly what it is, but I think the program is heading in the right direction."