Depth was the word of the night as Team Canada rode their bench players to a win over Jamaica in the opening game of the 2013 edition of the Jack Donohue International Classic.
The friendly, named in honour of the pioneering Canadian basketball coach, is now entering its seventh iteration, and has become a must-see on Toronto’s summer sports calendar. The atmosphere at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre told the same story, as a friendly game turned aggressive, and a relatively quiet crowd came alive as the game got rougher throughout the night.
Photo: Charles Vanegas
Both teams came out gunning, and with three lead changes in the first quarter, there was the promise of a tight edgy game. Cavs star Tristan Thompson was having trouble finding his shot going just one for three from the field early, but Scarborough’s Jevohn Shepherd picked up the slack, good for seven points. On the Jamaican side, Adrian Uter, newly signed with Italian league team Pallacanestro Cantu after several years in Italy, was pounding it inside, good for 8 points.
However, Canada’s second unit came off the bench to blow the game open for Canada. Big man Levon Kendall poured in 11, and point guard Junior Cadougan was good for four assists in just the first quarter. Using a full court press early, Canada put Jamaica under a lot of pressure, forcing rushed plays and several errors. And despite not holding any height advantage, Canada outhustled Jamaica to hold the lead in second chance buckets and boards before the half. The scoreline didn’t quite reflect it however, with Canada only holding a 44-42 lead.
Photo: Charles Vanegas
Whatever Jamaican coach Sam Vincent said however, made the game come alive in the third. Hard screens and charging fouls promised to make the game closer than the final score related. Andy Rautins and Corey Joseph both were called for hard charges, before Nicholson set a hard screen, taking down Jamaican big man Samardo Samuels away from the play. Samuels got no call as Uter finished at the rim.
“He’s a pro, he’s used to getting pro calls, you know? There’s a couple times where the calls could’ve gone either way, as far as that’s concerned,” said Jamaica’s coach Vincent.
Rushing back on D, Samuels decided to get one back, and the ref blew up for an unsportsmanlike foul, the FIBA equivalent of a flagrant. “You know, he got hit, and he went back and hit somebody. That’s usually what happens a lot of times on the basketball court,” Vincent offered, in postmatch comments to the media.
Even Tristan Thompson got involved, getting T’d up for jawing at the ref. Shooting guard Brady Heslip tried to calm him down, though Thompson would still foul out in the fourth quarter, and sit down, understandably agitated at his 22% shooting, and 4 points.
Canada didn’t need to worry however, as Heslip led the scoring in an unbelievable fourth quarter.
The Baylor senior and Burlington native, shot out the lights with 12 points in the fourth, including sinking a long two ball over the outstretched hand of Adrian Uter. The Mattamy exploded every time he got the ball as the saw him get hot from beyond the arc. Finishing with 18 points, three boards, and a steal, Heslip was good for Player of the Game honours for Canada. Canada coasted to an 81-72 win, leaving fans wondering if Canada was toying with them all along.
Heslip’s uncle and coach, Jay Triano, was playful after the game, when asked about Heslip’s incredible shooting night. “I’ve known him his whole life, and he’s never lacked confidence shooting the basketball, so that’s a great thing,” Triano said. When asked about that same confidence, Heslip said “I think it runs in the family.”
Jamaican coach Sam Vincent was magnanimous, admitting “we just didn’t shoot the basketball well tonight. Canada on the other hand shot the ball very well. So my hat’s off to Canada,” in postgame comments to the press.
Jamaica’s bench was only good for 19 points throughout the game however, compared to Canada’s 48. Vincent was optimistic, saying “our bench will get there. There’s still some guys that we need to get in the rotation, and see what …we get out of them,” but also admitted that rebounding was something “we definitely have to adjust. We know what the problems are. We absolutely did not do a good job rebounding the basketball, and the number shows it.”
The game itself only told half the story however, as Jamaica, and Canada, both fast rising basketball powers, used the evening to showcase their current stars and growth. Canada brought out young players in the Canada Basketball Junior Academy to meet both teams pregame, and the stadium’s PA regularly wished Jamaica good luck in the upcoming FIBA Americas tournament. Both teams are drawn into Group A for the 2013 edition of the tournament.
Jay Triano cited community development as a reason for Canada’s growth, saying “guys that form those teams that take young players, travel and find them the best competition. That plays a huge role in the development of our players, and it gives our players a level of confidence.”
Heslip later said “everybody wants to be a part of what we’re doing right now. The direction that Canada Basketball’s going, everybody knows. Seeing a turnout like this, all the NBA guys, to see them come out, shows that they’re supportive and want to be a part of it.” Kansas’s Andrew Wiggins, the projected first overall pick in the 2014 NBA entry draft, and native Torontonian was among those spotted in the crowd.
Meanwhile, Jamaica is happy with their own progress, having claimed the Bronze Medal in 2012’s Centrobasket tournament. “We’ve never been on a podium at the central basket before. It did a lot, in terms of recognition,” James Sam Vincent said.
Jamaican Player of the Game Adrian Uter agreed, saying “All the young kids now, now they picking it up instead of kicking a football. They thinkin’ about basketball. It just shows, basketball’s on a world stage. It’s crazy.”