LATEST INFO. IS AT THE BOTTOM (DAY 1 - DAY 19!)
Bronco basketball Freshman-redshirt Julian Clarke (JC) is traveling in Europe with the Under-19 Canadian National Men's Basketball Team. The team will travel to Latvia to compete in the 2011 FIBA World Championship. Clarke will blog daily with information on and off the court and behind the scenes! Check back daily and make sure you check the Photo Gallery daily as well because he will also be taking photos of his experience.
Day 1 Blog!
The trip has gotten off to a great start! Flying out of Toronto with the U19 Canadian Junior Men's National Basketball Team, we endured approximately 13 hours of international travel through Warsaw, Poland and Riga, Latvia, en route to our current destination of Panevezys, Lithuania. Once we checked into our hotel, the team ate and went for a walk around the area, where the celebration of the summer solstice has been in full swing all day.
After mingling with the crowd for a bit, we left for the gym and ended up having a great practice regardless despite the tired eyes and stiff legs from travel. Canada's Technical Director of Basketball Operations, Renato Pasquale, joined us in Lithuania today; he along with the coaches provided great insight and energy to kick-start practice and the guys responded well.
We are looking forward to continuing at such a high pace in practice tomorrow and heading into our first game in the Global Games Exhibition Tournament on Saturday against Latvia.
Day 2 Blog!
Today was our first full day in Panevezys, Lithuania.
We started the day with a traditional Baltic breakfast of ham and cheesed crepes, and did not stop moving all day. Went for a great walk early in the morning before practice, but the streets were completely dead as today was a national holiday in Lithuania.
We then headed to one of the best practices we've had all summer, as guys were focused and on point as we prepared for our game tomorrow against Latvia. The energy in the gym was amazing and very contagious. Our legs are finally under us after the long travel and we are ready to play now!
The rest of the day consisted of a trip to the local grocery store (where a gaggle of Lithuanian children followed us like celebrities) and watching the game between Argentina and the home team Lithuania as only the second game of the Global Games tournament.
I also discovered that the Australian national team is in the same hotel as us and I spoke with one of the coaches who had some very good things to say about Santa Clara's own Ben Dowdell. Also, on the family front, my little brother Brody is representing Canada on the FIBA Americas stage in Mexico for the U16 age group, and I would like to wish him luck in his upcoming semifinal game against the USA!
Looking forward to a great game tomorrow and go Canada!
Day 3 Blog!
Today was our first game day at the Global Games Exhibition Tournament.
We got up for an early shootaround and walkthrough and had our team jersey ceremony, where everyone is compared to one NBA player by the coaches as well as given their roles on the team.
After that we headed to the gym for our game against Latvia. We lost the game, but it was a learning experience for our team; first game together and we showed some flashed of what could make us a very good team this summer.
After the game we stuck around to watch Brazil vs. Argentina, then headed back to the hotel for the evening to watch film and kick back, and prepare for tomorrow's game against Australia!
Day 4 Blog!
Today was all about focus. Looking back on yesterday's game against Latvia, we came out flat and it hurt us. I focused a lot of my energy on offense and finished as the second-leading scorer with 12 points; however, being one of the team leaders, that mentality trickled down and we weren't prepared mentally on defense.
From the moment we hit the court for our early morning shootaround today, the talk was of our defense. The offense would come through our defense and pushing the ball in transition.
Playing Australia, we put that plan into full action.
From the start of the game vs. Australia, our defense took precedence. We played straight up, full court man-to-man the entire game, trailing pin-down screens and helping on the weak side.
Down four at half, we took it up another notch in the third, outscoring the Aussies 19-5 and taking the lead for good. Everyone played stronger today, and we used out size and physical play to overwhelm them on defense and run on offense.
One of our four players to finish in double figures, with 10, and we also had two players finish with eight points. A well balanced-attack on offense and tough, hard-nosed defense helped us beat a tough Australia team that is traditionally a world power at the Junior National level and had beat a solid Brazil team by 30 points the day before.
We are starting to find our identity as a group and command respect from teams around us, and it gets more fun each day. Our confidence is building, and the team is getting even closer together, going for evening walks around Panevezys and going from room to room spending time with other teammates.
Tomorrow's game against Brazil should be a tough one, but we just need to play with confidence and aggression like today and we shouild be happy with the result.
Go Canada and of course, Go Broncos!
Day 5 Blog!
Today was all about establishing our team's identity, and we did just that.
We lost 96-90 to Brazil, but we played everyone and really got ourselves in tune defensively, forcing their star point guard into nine turnovers and their team into 26 total. Unfortunately we got out to a slow start but we rallied back and the game was back and forth the entire second half. We're really starting to pick up our defensive intensity as a group, and it is translating into easy baskets on offense.
Later on in the day, we wished the Brazil players (who were in the same hotel as us) a safe travel after hanging out in the lobby briefly. We then went for one last walk as a team around the city, and spent some time with the Toronto Raptors' newest member, #5 pick Jonas Valanciunas, a Luthuania native. Valanciunas was enamored by our Canada gear and a Raptors hat that Negus Webster-Chan was wearing. After some time with him, we packed up for tomorrow's three hour bus ride to Liepaja, Latvia.
It's time to go to the Worlds!
Day 6 Blog!
Today we traveled to Liepaja, Latvia, where the World Championships will be held starting on Thursday. The day was relatively non-eventful, as the five hour drive consisted mostly of green pastures and sleeping.
When we arrived in Liepaja we checked into our hotel and practiced for an hour in the FIBA arena where we will be playing our first round of competition. The food so far is better in Latvia than it was in Lithuania, and the city of Liepaja is larger that Panevezys.
Tomorrow we have two practices and we're heading to the beach as well, and then our first game of the Worlds is against Korea on Thursday. Tomorrow is our last day of preparation before a possible 9-game-in-11-day stretch, and we are prepared to make the most of it.
Day 7 Blog!
Hello from Liepaja, Latvia(CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION ON LATVIA)!
Today was a great experience for the team as we headed to the shores of the Baltic Sea for a mid-morning swim. The water was cold and salty, but enjoyable for quite a few of us.
After a walk and a dip, we headed back to the hotel for lunch before practice.
Our first practice was mostly competitive, with the focus on consistency and attention to detail while running the few sets we have. After practice we relaxed for a few hours before heading back to the gym to get another hour of shooting in. The energy in the gym was extremely contagious, as tomorrow (Thurs., June 29) marks the beginning of the World Championships!!
We play Korea at 8:15am pacific standard time, and live streaming online can be found by finding the link to the Liepaja Group C games by clicking here, and full stats and updates can be found there as well!
Day 8 Blog!
The Worlds started today!!
The team had a late morning and a short shootaround where we went over details of Korea's style of play. This day was all about winning to put ourselves in a good position heading into the long haul.
As well, Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga signee)and I were named team captains today. Nice honor.
The first play of the game against Korea was a lob to big Sim Bhullar for a dunk, and we continued to pound the ball inside all game. They were an unorthodox team to play against and they shot a lot of threes, but we were able to lock down in the second half after a 55-51 halftime lead. Click here for the boxscore and recap.
Sim finished the game with 24 and 14 rebs (10 offensively), Dyshawn Pierre scored 23 and I scored 17. I dunked on a kid early in the second half, Lomomba ripped down a two-hander as well and Sim dunked everything.
We ended the game outrebounding Korea 60-29 and scoring 70 points in the paint to their 24. We won 109-93 despite only shooting 3/16 from distance. Our shooting will have to improve for tomorrow's game against Croatia, but we need to continue to finish strong inside as well.
It'll be tough but hopefully we can get it done!
Go Canada and, of course, Go Broncos!
Day 9 Blog! Happy Canada Day from Europe!!!
Happy Canada Day to everyone back home! We played Croatia today as the second game of the Worlds. Earlier on in the day, Egypt upset China in double overtime, and we were hoping to do the same against Croatia.
The game was a battle. Back and forth, lots of lead changes and very physical. They pulled away 80-69 halfway through the fourth quarter but we rallied back to a two-point deficit before losing by four. We shot the ball poorly from three but played all other areas well. Kevin Pangos led the way today with 19 points and 5 assists; Dyshawn Pierre added 16 and 11 rebs and I had 11, 3 rebs and 3 assists. The big fella, Sim Bhullar, played limited minutes due to the matchups with Croatia's agile big men, but we will look to use him to our advantage against Jonas Valanciunas, the fifth pick in the NBA draft, and his Lithuania team.
Our response to today's loss in tomorrow's game will dictate how tough our team is and how far we can get into this tournament.
On another topic, everyone is pretty bummed about the NBA lockout. We were looking forward to seeing fellow Canadians Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph in action for their respective squads, Cleveland and San Antonio, but we might have to wait a while. Still, the basketball world is focused on the games in Latvia at least for the remainder of the tournament and we have to take advantage of the extra exposure and play well.
Day 10 Blog!
Unfortunately, there isn't much good to say about today other than it was a learning experience against one of the best teams in the entire world. We lost by 40 points to Lithuania, who packed the gym with nearly 1500 fans decked in green and gold, whistling and cheering and holding up flags. The environment was like nothing any of us and ever experienced; the pride that those fans possess is unmatched, and for good reason.
Lithuania is very good. We had no answer for them in transition, against their ball movement, their pick and rolls and their physical paint defense. Our points in the paint drastically diminished and our outside shooting struggles continued. What's worse, multitalented wing Negus Webster-Chan went down in the first quarter with a badly sprained ankle and bone chip in his left navicular bone.
As a team, though, we stuck together in the second half and played way more consistently. Usually a case of too little too late, this actually helped us prepare for our game against the USA on Monday, as we did not crumble in the face of adversity and everyone finally bought into our schemes and mentality on offense and defense. We can only improve from here.
Day 11 Blog!
Today was just another travel day. Weary from the previous day, we packed into a bus early for the three hour trip to Riga, the big city with 750,000 people. Soon, the atmosphere in the bus changed from tired to one of enjoyment and warmth, as we watched Happy Gilmore as well as doing other things such as thinking of nicknames, such as "The French Connection" for inseparable guards Olivier Hanlan and Junior Lomomba, both from Quebec, and "The Lumberjack" for Matt Letkeman, a 6'6", 240lb bruiser from British Columbia with a huge, flaming red beard who looks like he could chop down trees and drag them home in his spare time.
After the bus ride, we arrived at our hotel and after a few hours of rest, went to practice. We prepared for the game against the USA and got up a lot of shots. After practice, we watched the movie "Borat" as a team before getting some early rest before the game.
Day 12 Blog!
We played the USA today, starting off the game great, but unable to maintain that intensity. They weren't necessarily a Dream Team, but they played with aggression and athleticism that we failed to match. We probably led for about the first eight minutes of the first quarter but then played catch up for the remainder of the game. However, in the second half, we found our rhythm offensively and if we take that same ball movement and aggressive attacking mentality into the Egypt game tomorrow, we should come out with a much needed victory.
With Serbia losing to Lithuania today, we could still advance to the quarterfinals of the tournament if we beat both Egypt and Serbia in these next two days. We have our work cut out for us and need to get it done.
Day 13 Blog!
Today was a situation where we had to stay alive for the medal round by beating Egypt, otherwise we would have no chance. We came out very strong at the start, leading 25-14 after the first quarter. Everyone was working in unison and the ball movement was crispy and fast. Shots were falling and the ball was moving inside and out well.
We won the game 91-71, setting up a game tomorrow where we have to beat Serbia, otherwise we will be playing to classify spots 9-12 in the world. They are a very tough team, winning the Worlds in 2007, and they have a lot of talent.
From the beginning, we landed in a very tough spot (the weakest teams were Korea, who beat Croatia, along with Egypt, who beat traditional power China). This is a chance to dig ourselves out and over to the easy side of the draw, with teams like Australia and Brazil who we are very comfortable with.
Later in the evening, we enjoyed a team bonding session where we watched Denzel Washington's "Man On Fire". The movie was great, with reactions from teammates spilling all over Facebook and Twitter, as well as talk about watching another Denzel movie tomorrow. We'll see what happens at 12:15pm against Serbia!
Day 14 Blog!
We had to play a very tough Serbia team today and we fell short. They moved the ball well and shot exceptionally well from the floor; our goal was to make them hit contested pull-up jumpers and threes to beat us and they did just that. In addition to the loss, we lost 7'5" Sim Bhullar to a broken nose, and he will be unable to play for the rest of the tournament. We have two more games that have yet to be determined, but we are still playing for a top 10 placing in the entire world and need to come out with fire the last two days.
Tomorrow we have a day off, so we stayed up to watch "Four Brothers" as a team. The mixture of violence and brotherhood got our team in a great mood for tomorrow's practice, and we are ready to go.
Day 15 Blog!
We had a very productive practice today: short, sweet, and competitive. We didn't go over any offensive or defensive schemes, just played hard.
After that, we headed to the beach that is a short drive outside of Riga. We spent about two hours there, renting massive pedal boats that held six players each, swimming in the depths of the Baltic Sea and playing some great games of beach volleyball.
To finish off the day, the team watched "Transformers 3". Everyone enjoyed it and now it is time to get some rest so we can go out and win against Latvia tomorrow!
Day 16 Blog!
Last time we played against Latvia, we lost by 20+. Today was a different story offensively; sadly, defensively it was not.
Without Sim Bhullar (broken nose) patrolling the painted area, we found ourselves undersized on defense. We lost 99-96, a high-scoring affair that saw our starting power forward Dyshawn Pierre score 30 points to lead all scorers. We were aggressive from the start on offense, but they worked their inside-out game very well, with the NBA's 37th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft Davis Bertans shooting the ball from all areas of the court and finishing with 21 points and their big man finishing with 23 points, all in the paint or from the foul line. We play Egypt tomorrow as our last game. A win will place us 11th in the entire world.
In addition, the USA was shocked by Russia, losing in the quarterfinals 99-94. The best finish the defending champs can now get is 5th. The top 4 teams heading into the semis tomorrow are the favourite Lithuania, Serbia, Argentina and Russia.
Day 17 Blog!
We beat Egypt today to finish 11th in the world! While disappointing because we were hoping for a top six finish, we are encouraged to hold our heads high.
Playing for your country is extremely special and hopefully Canada Basketball becomes a reference point for the lives of each and every one of us. Each level continues to improve and we are part of the grand scheme of things. I just want to congratulate everyone who tried out and made the trip with us to Lithuania and Latvia because it was a special experience that not many people get to enjoy.
We watched two exciting semi-final games today, and Serbia and Lithuania will meet tomorrow in the finals. I am hoping to see a Serbian upset of Lithuania (for those who didn't know, my mother is Serbian, making me half). After the game, a few of us headed out to see "X-Men: First Class" to end off the night.
It was a good day and tomorrow we will look to end the trip with some time at the beach and watching the finals.
Day 18 Blog!
Today was a great last day for our team to spend together. We went to the beach for three hours, partaking in activities such as impersonating "Baywatch", playing beach volleyball, boating, swimming races and meeting a 10 foot long python.
After the beach, we went to watch the bronze and gold medal games. The bronze game was a hotly contested matchup between Argentina and Russia, with Russia pulling out a close victory. The gold medal game saw Lithuania's Jonas Valanciunas score 36 points and grab eight rebounds, leading Lithuania to an 18 point win over Serbia.
Lithuania had the most raucous crowd I had ever seen; over 10,000 Lithuania fans traveled between two and 12 hours to Latvia for the final game. Valanciunas was named MVP after leading the tournament with 24 ppg and 15 rpg.
Bryan Colangelo and the Toronto Raptors are probably ecstatic, and they should be; he was a great draft pick and a steal as the fifth pick overall.
Great day and we head out tomorrow.
Day 19 Blog!
There isn't much to say about today except thank you!! A thank you to all the coaches, players, and organizations (Canada Basketball, FIBA) that made this trip possible.
The 16 hours of travel home were filled with an essence of true team bonding moments, as many of us have built friendships over this trip that will last. Everyone went their separate ways upon landing in Toronto, but this was a great life experience and we will miss the moments that we all shared. I am looking forward to seeing each and every one of these guys succeed, and to play with them again in the future!
Go Canada! (and PS, Go Broncos!)