EDMONTON – The Panamanian national team arrived in Edmonton with little illusion. The players knew that in their FIBA World Cup qualifier against Canada, they would likely be on the losing side.
EDMONTON – The Panamanian national team arrived in Edmonton with little illusion. The players knew that in their FIBA World Cup qualifier against Canada, they would likely be on the losing side. They knew they were likely to lose significantly.
But while they knew they were overwhelmed, they were still struck by how clinical and ruthless the Canadian team actually was.
Canada remained the only undefeated team in qualifiers for the FIBA World Championship in the Americas Zone, beating Panama 112-71 at the Edmonton Expo Center on Sunday night.
Panamanian coach Flor Melendez Montanez said he was happy the Panamanians held off the Canadians for a quarter and a half, but after that “they just destroyed us”.
Canada, now 10-0, had qualified for the 2023 FIBA World Championship on Thursday with an emphatic win over Venezuela. Canada is the only undefeated team in America. The basketball giants from the USA, Brazil or Argentina cannot boast of this.
“That says a lot about Team Canada,” said assistant head coach Nate Bjorkgren. “And I’ll tell you this: we’re talking about 10 of them, and we’ve taken the same approach to each and every one of them. … The focus, the continuity of this group, they come at just the right time and I wish we could be together longer. That goes very quickly.”
Panama advances to 2-8 and is at the bottom of the qualifying group.
Veteran Panamanian security guard Trevor Gaskins, who grew up in the United States and played college ball with Ole Miss, said his team could learn a lot from how Canada dismantled them.
“The coach said in the dressing room that even though they were promoted by 30 or 40, they played as a team and managed the system and the things that they were working on. So that they can get better in the future or play at the World Cup. So I think[Panama’s players]can learn from that, to see how hard you need to play, to see how you need to play hard.
Canada has managed to develop continuity and a 10-game system, although the roster fluctuates from window to window as NBA players are only available for a small number of FIBA windows. No NBA players were available for the Edmonton window.
But the depth group filled up admirably. Canada was led by Aaron Best with 22 points and two assists. Kassius Robertson had 13 points and three assists.
Panama received 14 points and nine rebounds from Ernesto Ogilvie.
After the game, Bjorkgren praised Best, who won a CEBL title with the Hamilton Honey Badgers in 2022.
“We ask him to run the floor, we ask him to smash the glass, he shoots the three, he does everything a coach wants him to do and a team wants him to do. He always plays the right game.”
Canada beat Panama in a very different way when it triumphed over Venezuela. Against the Venezuelans, the Canadians dominated the glass and extended possession with offensive rebounds. On Sunday, Canada didn’t have to be great rebounders because they were just great shooters.
As a team, Canada shot 53 percent against the Panamanians, while the visitors maintained their shooting accuracy at 39 percent.
All 12 Canadian players made the goalscoring list.
“It’s always fun when you play well and perform and do the things you want to do,” said Canada forward Melvin Ejim, who had 12 points. “We went out there, executed our game plan, we did what we wanted to do and we got to enjoy that.”
Sunday’s game had the feel of a post-qualifier celebration. A 10-0 run late in the first quarter confirmed Canada’s dominance, and fans watched as a Canadian team attempted to make baskets like this was an All-Star game.
It felt like every time Canada hit the bottom, the home team was interested in putting on a show.
Trae Bell-Haynes gasped as his crossover dribbles left Panamanian defender Eugenio Bocaz on the floor. Center Connor Morgan ended a circus alley-oop pass from Kassius Robertson with a thunderous dunk. Melvin Ejim threw a thunderous dunk from a quick break. Thomas Scrubb threw a cross-court fastball to his brother Phil Scrubb, who passed it to Robertson for a three. Jean-Victor Mukama threw a dunk after stepping high over the rim for a rebound.
“You get a sense of the guys with the continuity that we’ve been able to build within the group,” Best said Getting synergy going and playing defense the way we do makes it easier for everyone offensively. That’s why you see the alley-oop pieces and the backdoor cuts and all that.”
For a group of Canadian non-NBA players who are not household names, it was an opportunity to showcase just how far this country has come in terms of basketball talent.
And the Canadians rained from three-point territory, hitting a total of 19 shots from behind the arc.
CONTINUE FOR CANADA
The players will all return to their club teams. Canada’s next FIBA Qualifier is scheduled for February 23, 2023 en route to Argentina at #4.
Canada is ranked 15th by FIBA, Panama 51st. …Panama came to Canada after an 83-79 loss to the Bahamas on November 11th. … Canada beat Panama 106-50 on August 29 in Panama City. … Jahvon Blair was included in the Canada squad for the Panama game, replacing guard Kenny Chery, who was forced to return to Turkey on club commitments after Thursday’s win against Venezuela.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on November 13, 2022.
Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press