Canada downs Italy to win world U19 men’s basketball championship

Listening to “O Canada” at international basketball tournaments has always meant a lot to Roy Rana. But after coaching Canada’s men’s under-19 team to the country’s first-ever world basketball title, it reached a whole new level.

R.J. Barrett scored 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds as Canada roared past Italy 79-60 on Sunday to win the FIBA U19 World Cup, the first time Canadians of any gender or age group have brought home a basketball world title.

“You’re on top of that podium and you know you’ve won it all,” said Rana in a conference call from Cairo. “It hasn’t happened before and I think some of us just didn’t even know what to make of it. It’s always beautiful to hear our anthem and to hear it in this context is so special.”

Nate Darling of Lower Sackville, N.S., and Abu Kigab of St. Catharines, Ont., each added 12 points for the team that had upset the United States 99-87 in the semifinals a day earlier.

“I think everybody had chills,” said Rana. “Just an incredible energy and pride and emotion. It’s hard to explain. Its hard to describe.”

A day after he poured in 38 points against the Americans, Barrett, a 17-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., earned tournament MVP honours. He went 3-for-13 from the field, and 12-of-14 from the free throw line against Italy.

Barrett, who battled players two years his senior in Egypt, is considered the world’s best player for his age and has been the consensus top basketball prospect from the Class of 2019 for well over a year.

“What I was really impressed with is just who he is as a young man,” said Rana. “His character shone through throughout the whole summer, right from Day 1 of training camp. He’s another one of our stars that just demonstrates humility, appreciation of everything he gets. He’s not entitled, he’s just willing to do all of the little things that everyone else does, just a part of the team.

“But when he steps on the court he just transforms himself. He’s a very special young man and an incredible basketball player.”

The Canadians, who had never played for a medal at this tournament, started the game slow but opened a gap with a 12-0 run in the first quarter and went into the dressing room with a sizable 51-36 halftime lead.

Barrett and Kigab, who were also named tournament all-stars, continued to pressure the Italians in the second half and opened a 26-point lead in the third quarter.

Starting point guard Lindell Wigginton of Dartmouth, N.S., returned to the Canadian lineup after missing the previous two games with an injury. He finished with 11 points, three rebounds and three assists in 29 minutes.

Rana also guided a team that included Andrew Wiggins, now with the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, to a bronze medal at the 2010 world under-17 championship.

Wiggins posted a photo of Canada’s winning team on his Instagram account with the caption: “Congratulations to Team Canada for making history on winning the #FIBAU19 World Cup Championship.”

Former NBA superstar Steve Nash and current general manager of Canada’s men’s senior team took to Twitter to congratulate them.

“BIG Congrats Canada’s U19’s. World Champs! Lots of hard work from lots of people CanBball for years. Enjoy this Canada. #WeAreTeamCanada,” tweeted Nash, who played with R.J. Barrett’s father Rowan on Canada’s team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and is R.J.’s godfather.

Rana said that the support of Canadian NBA stars and national team alum had a big impact on his team at the tournament and showed how the country’s basketball community is growing and becoming stronger. He also thinks that the gold-medal performance has already had an impact on Canada Basketball.

“I think our expectations are vastly different than they were in the past,” said Rana. “We go into every tournament thinking we have a legitimate shot to win a medal and now seeing we’ve had this success, that we can win it all, means that our expectations have risen.”

David Albright Okeke led Italy with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Tommaso Oxilia and Lorenzo Penna chipped in with 12 apiece.

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