PANEVEZYS (Global Games | FIBA U19 World Championship) - Greg Francis, the coach of the Canadian team, is happy about the improving game of his team and thinks that the Global Games tournament is a great chance to check the Maple Leafs strength heading into the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship.
The 37-year-old specialist, who led Canada to bronze medals in last year's FIBA Americas U18 Championship, is happy with the squad he has got, but is rather cautious about the group opponents that await Canada in Liepaja - Lithuania, Croatia and South Korea.
Coach Francis, who has been coaching the Canadian Junior Men's National Team since 2005, makes it clear that the most important thing now is to advance to the next round and thinks that his team is well capable of doing that.
We caught up with coach Francis after Canada's 76-70 victory against the powerful and on-form Australian team to talk about the upcoming World Championship and the Canadian side's preparations.
FIBA: How are the preparations for the World Championship going and has the Global Games tournament been useful?
Greg Francis: This is a great event for us, because we get three quality games and all the teams are using it for preparation. Yesterday we didn't come out the way we wanted to, but we had travelled. I was very happy with the way my team was competing.
FIBA: Are any key players missing from the roster?
Francis: We had a couple players that we wanted to come to our camp, but at the end of the day when we had our tryouts, these were the best players that were ready to play Canada. Very committed players and they play with heart and that's why we took them.
FIBA: What do you think about your group?
Francis: Oh boy, we have Lithuania, Croatia and Korea, so they will be very tough teams and even when you talk about Korea they can shoot the three-pointers and they can beat you on any given night. I think Croatia and Lithuania are always good. Our group is very tough, so our goal is to be competitive on our group and we want to be playing in the next round.
FIBA: Have there been any improvements in your game lately?
Francis: For sure, our defense has got a lot better, yesterday we weren't able to physically pick the challenge and Australia is a very physical team and I thought our guys really matched their physicality. And if we match people physically, I think we have some very talented guards, the big fellow Sim Bhullard, who presents an awkward match-up for the opposition.
FIBA: What are the strengths of Canada?
Francis: We have a very good inside player with Sim at the basket, but our guard play will get a lot better. Kevin Pangos is a very strong player for us - he's a point guard, who can control the game. For us today Negus Webster-Chan was a very good wing, great on the break and at 6-6 he can be a very good player.